Dr Anil Gomber, Senior Consultant, Max Hospital
The only way out of the pandemic is by ending vaccine inequity
There is a new tussle between the haves and have-nots. And this one is for Covid-19 vaccines. While the developed world sits on unused stocks, poorer countries struggle to vaccinate their population with even one dose.
About two-third of the world has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine but only 17.8 per cent have managed to do that in low-income countries. This inequity in vaccine distribution does not bode well for humanity as it can give rise to deadlier mutations that can evade immunity and wreak havoc.
To combat a pandemic that knows no boundaries, you need to make vaccines across all boundaries.
Countries that have stocked up vaccines should immediately divert them through donations to poor and under-vaccinated nations before end-2022. The G7 and other countries with large vaccine stocks must fulfil their pledges.
Unutilised vaccines are anyway going to expire. Official data from the US in April showed that more than 150 million Covid vaccines were in storage or were thrown away.
Vaccine manufacturers, too, should fulfil their collective responsibility to provide adequate supply to poorer countries, at a discounted rate. Also, all countries must eliminate export restrictions and trade barriers to manufacturing of Covid vaccines.
India and South Africa are leading the discussions on a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights, so that poorer countries receive vaccines and therapies to fight the pandemic. The European countries that have been blocking the move need to back down.
Collaboration between private companies and governments led to the development of Covid vaccines. We need a similar approach for building a vaccine technology hub that provides countries the know-how to develop their own vaccines. One such hub is already being set up in South Africa.
Countries around the world could also benefit by borrowing India’s Co-WIN platform, which helps in managing supply chain and conducting large-scale vaccinations with minimum wastage.
A long-drawn pandemic will result in an extended global economic depression. So how about vaccinating our way out of this pandemic? If not for morality’s sake, let’s do it because it makes business sense.
Dr Tandon is Director–Health at the US-based Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International and Dr Gomber is a Senior Consultant with Max Hospital