No one is safe till everyone is vaccinated
The Covid-19 pandemic has been called the biggest challenge to the world order since World War II. In late March 2021, more than 20 world leaders came together to call for a “new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response” that would help build the cooperation needed to mange inevitable future public health crises. One of the main highlights of this meeting was to underscore the “one health” approach which recognizes the interconnected nature of human, animal and environmental health.
The same world leaders, a number of whom are involved in public altercations over vaccine supplies, called attention to the fact that immunization is a “global public good” and emphasized the need for equitable access to safe, affordable and effective vaccines.
This comes at a time when only 10 countries in the world have administered 70% or three-fourth (414 million) of the vaccine doses out of the 552 million vaccine doses distributed worldwide, when there are still countries that don’t have a single dose, according to a report published by the World Health Organization. These inequities are not justifiable or acceptable.
According to Nigozi Okonjo-Iweala, head of WTO, ensuring developing countries can access, as well as safely distribute vaccines, calls for stronger synergies at the national, regional and global level.
Every government has a responsibility to put its citizens first, but, at the same time needs to realize that no one can be safe from the impact of the pandemic unless there is universal deployment of the vaccines, fair manufacturing agreements, technology transfers and knowledge sharing. Also, it is pertinent for wealthy and developed countries to understand that even though focusing primarily on the health and safety of their own people is tempting, the outlook in wealthy countries depends to a large extent on what’s happening in the rest of the world, as new variants originating elsewhere will ultimately cause fresh international outbreaks.
In a nutshell, it wouldn’t be erroneous to assume that in addition to tremendous impacts in the developing world, health security, global stability and economic prosperity are at stake as the virus continues raging on. Threats to global health security can’t be considered in silo and require dedicated international cooperation. The UN secretary general stated that ending the global pandemic will require sustained investment, a renewed commitment to universal health coverage, calling on countries to guarantee that health care technologies are accessible and affordable to all who need them.
With a rate of vaccination of fewer the 0.3% per 100 population, Pakistan ranks among the lowest in the region. Apart from the vaccine donations and waiting for the COVAX supply, GoP recently allowed the private sector to import vaccines, namely the Russian Sputnik V, in a move fraught with ethical problems.
Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba
COVAX aims to deliver at least two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20% of the people living in low- and middle-income countries. Pakistan is relying on the COVAX program to vaccinate at least 20% of it’s population. Currently, the global scheme to supply Covid-19 vaccines to billions of people living in poorer countries is facing hurdles which could potentially leave a vast majority of the most vulnerable people with no access to free vaccines until 2024.
Pakistan, as a signatory to the COVAX program, is also at risk. Pakistan has been relying heavily on the donation of the Chinese Sinopharma vaccine. The country received half a million doses in the beginning of March and is set to receive another 500,000 doses of Sinopharma as well as 60,000 doses of the CanSino vaccine. However, given the population dynamics in a country of over 224 million people, this doesn’t seem to be sufficient.
Apart from the low vaccination rates, the country is currently in the grips of a third wave due to the negligence of the state to curtail the spread of the UK variant when the first cases were reported in December. With a rate of vaccination of fewer the 0.3% per 100 population, Pakistan ranks among the lowest in the region. Apart from the vaccine donations and waiting for the COVAX supply, GoP recently allowed the private sector to import vaccines, namely the Russian Sputnik V, in a move fraught with ethical problems. Apart from the price controversy, the issues of inequity and inequality, which is already rampant in our society, are further highlighted.
People with easy access to life saving vaccines are those with the means to pay for them, while so many vulnerable segments of society will wait for years to get access. The government has again failed its citizens by relenting to the price set by private companies.
The rollout of vaccines in developing countries is critical to protecting lives, building human capital and stimulating economic recovery. The current crisis is exacerbating inequalities throughout the world and without access to vaccines, this gap will widen further.
Only once the vaccine is available to vulnerable populations in every country around the world, will there be hope of bringing the pandemic under control. Otherwise there will be sparks of disease smouldering around like tiny hot embers, always with the risk of widespread fire.
- Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba is a freelance consultant working in the areas of environment and health.