This week marks the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccine administered in the United States. It is also an unfortunate reminder of the glaring inequalities in vaccine access that persist among rich and developing countries—and the ever-present lack of international cooperation displayed by governments in responding to the pandemic, according to AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
More than 70% of people in the U.S. and about 56% of the global population have had at least one vaccine dose. However, of the more than 8.5 billion doses administered worldwide, 73% have gone to wealthy countries, with barely 7% of people in low-income countries getting a shot. Less than 13% of people on the African continent have received even one dose.
“The world collectively held its breath when COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time. We thought, surely this planet-wide crisis will be the catalyst to finally unite all nations in defeating a common enemy in the novel coronavirus,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “But as we saw with ‘the other pandemic’ of HIV/AIDS, the pharmaceutical industry’s political sway and exorbitant profits from lifesaving medicines continue to take precedence over human lives. The only way to get this new pandemic under control is to end the vaccine apartheid perpetrated by a handful of rich countries and to vaccinate the world.”
It has been over a year since South Africa and India introduced a proposal to waive intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization. U.S. President Joe Biden has also voiced support for patent waivers and technology transfers, which must be the first steps in boosting global vaccine production.
“It’s time for the countries blocking the expansion of global vaccine access to see what lies ahead unless they change course – a drawn out pandemic, millions more deaths, and accelerating instability across the world,” added Weinstein. “These threats will exist as long as governments allow drug companies to set the terms by which the world is forced to abide. The anniversary of the first COVID-19 shot in the U.S. should be met with celebration, instead we are left with a stark realization that the world is still disturbingly far behind in beating the pandemic and preparing for the next one.”
In addition to sharing vaccine patents and technologies, countries must also share excess doses with other nations. COVID-19 has proven what we already knew to be true; Infectious diseases know no borders—no countries are safe from the dangerous emerging COVID-19 variants that will persist until everyone in all countries has access to lifesaving vaccines.