Global vaccine equity is key to ending COVID-19 pandemic

Published June 7, 2021, 12:32 AM

by Manila Bulletin

If not enough countries will band together and commit to vaccine equity, COVID-19 will continue to evolve and humanity may be consigned to a never-ending pandemic.

It’s a race against time. While the first generation of vaccines has demonstrated high levels of efficacy, these need to be distributed as widely as possible to preempt the intrusion of more resistant variants.

As vaccines are being rolled out, new robust variants of the novel coronavirus — from the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and India continue to mutate — and trigger devastating surges similar to what struck India recently.  It is imperative to get vaccines jabbed in as many people’s arms in as many countries to preempt further serious outbreaks.

“Vaccine hoarding” has been denounced in view of the apparent concentration of supplies in the United States and Europe where the breakthrough vaccines were developed and first rolled out.

In a recent online forum of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the Philippines joined in deploring the unfortunate state of global COVID-19 vaccination, aligning itself with its ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the G77 coalition at the United Nations that is now composed of 124 countries.

“Simple humanity” and “simple biology” are two reasons why those living in the most affluent countries should be concerned about extremely low vaccination rates in the poorest nations.  Viruses travel across borders and leapfrog all over the globe, infecting unwitting carriers who become viral transmitters.

As early as April 2020, COVAX, an initiative aimed at distributing vaccines equitably around the world, was formed through a partnership between Gavi, a 21-year old international vaccine alliance and the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI).  Despite its resource constraints, the Philippines early on pledged its support to COVAX.  Last month, more than two million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in the Philippines through the COVAX Facility.  The Philippine ambassador to the US said that the country is likely to get a fair share of the 80 million doses that President Biden has pledged to COVAX.

Meantime, the World Health Organization (WHO) has welcomed the Biden administration’s proposal before the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines.  Pfizer expressed concern that this would disrupt the complex supply chain that supports its vaccine production schedule, citing that as many as 280 different components are provided by 86 suppliers in 19 countries. Moderna, which was next to Pfizer in the race to be the first to obtain emergency use authorization, pointed out, however, that “having the recipe for making the vaccine was not the same as having the ability to make the vaccine.”

Back on the home front, President Duterte has directed that equitable distribution must be assured, while the vaccination efforts are now presently focused on essential workers across industry and public service sectors.  Population protection, not ‘herd immunity’, is the new imperative.