COVID-19 has shaken the very foundations of our world. It has completely changed how we interact with each other, altered our priorities, and damaged our economies. As much of the world re-enters some sort of lockdown and experiences heightened restriction measures, we are all asking ourselves, when will life return to normal?
Unless you are a citizen of New Zealand or Australia, it is highly likely that your life will not return to normal until the vaccine has been distributed. However, it is now a question of who will get it first.
Over the past two weeks, the EU has been battling with vaccine producers AstraZeneca and Pfizer over delays. Nevertheless, Europe will still get their vaccines, but other countries may not.
Many countries will not be able to get adequate COVID-19 vaccines for their populations. Countries such as Israel secured the Pfizer vaccine for its entire population at a premium, and thus it drove up the price. Many developing countries that are already in significant debt cannot afford to pay this premium.
Countries like Mexico and Pakistan do not know when they will be able to receive the number of vaccines necessary, even though many developed countries had already secured vaccines for their populations before they were even approved. For example, Canada has enough vaccines to vaccinate its entire population five times. Many in international development are stating that this is unjust and points to an issue of global healthcare inequality.
The World Health Organization is addressing this issue through the COVAX initiative. The goal of this initiative is to unite countries that would normally have little bargaining power into a single bloc. In turn, this boosts their bargaining power. At the moment, 92 countries, all middle to low income, have signed onto the COVAX initiative.
However, COVAX isn’t making as significant headway as it needs to. An estimated 80-95% of a country’s population must receive the vaccine to achieve herd immunity. Yet, COVAX has only secured enough vaccinations for 20% of a country’s population.
The issue that this poses for developing countries is that their populations will continue to suffer along with their healthcare systems. Many developing countries are still lacking well-equipped healthcare systems, and due to the COVID-19 crisis, they have become extremely overwhelmed.
Many micronations in the Caribbean have stated that they only have about 100 ventilators on standby in case of an outbreak. However, these countries are already in serious debt and have very little income, largely due to restricted travel. Therefore, access to a vaccine will be crucial for their populations.
Nevertheless, many countries that have secured their vaccine doses are avoiding this subject. For example, Israel is currently considered a world leader in terms of vaccination numbers. However, Israel has also been slow to vaccinate the population of the West Bank and Gaza, their occupied territories, even though they have a higher death rate than Israel. Several businesses that operate in the occupied territories have said that because they have both Palestinian and Israeli workers in the same environment, it is especially necessary to vaccinate both populations.
The battle over the COVID-19 vaccine has exposed a crisis of economic disparity between countries. The true bargaining power of the EU, the USA, and other wealthy countries has been more evident than ever. Some people across the world will soon start to live life again as it once was. Others will continue to die while waiting on the vaccine.
ILLUSTRATION BY JAMES MELAUGH