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The world is on the brink of failing a critical test, which is whether the international community is willing or able to end a global pandemic without leaving anyone behind. Wealthy countries have bought up vast vaccine supplies, leaving poorer ones with extreme scarcity. An international initiative known as the COVID-19 Global Vaccine Access Facility (COVAX) aims to distribute vaccines widely and equitably, but is not only short of funds. Even if it reaches its 2021 target, COVAX will reach only a small portion of lower-income countries’ populations this year.

Along with moral demands of equitable global distribution, wealthy countries have deep humanitarian reasons, as well as economic, geostrategic and, critically, health reasons for equitable distribution, as without global protection, no country is safe from COVID-19. Wealthy countries should vastly expand their efforts beyond present COVAX support to enable far more equitable global distribution.

First, they should reallocate a portion of the doses they have secured for themselves – beyond excess doses to include those that they were going to use for their own populations – particularly as the United States and Europe get their own surges under control, during which time they are also vaccinating vulnerable populations. They should accept slower herd immunity for themselves to enable the world to move at a more equal pace in protecting national populations. Second, they should commit at least 2% of COVID-19 spending to response and recovery in low- and middle-income countries, amounting to $260 billion to-date, with more to follow. This would cover funding for accelerating distribution of vaccines, therapies, and diagnostics globally and provide vital humanitarian and social protection funds. Third, wealthy countries should ensure equitable distribution domestically and that vulnerable populations are quickly protected globally, including internally displaced people, asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless people. And fourth, they should work with the World Health Organization and other countries to spearhead and fund a global facility, with binding rules, for the equitable distribution of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

Publication Citation

Foreign Affairs, January 19, 2021.