A New Kind of Arms Race

Vaccine nationalism has countries fighting for control over coveted COVID-19 vaccine doses

Richer countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and European Union are muscling their way to the front and have secured millions of doses – beyond the amount needed to cover their populations – while 80% of populations across low and middle-income countries will not have access to a COVID-19 vaccine this year.

The monopolization of vaccines by wealthy nations could likely extend the length of the pandemic and cause almost twice as many deaths as distributing them equally. If one country is left unvaccinated, the disease will continue to adapt and spread. Therefore, experts warn, until everyone is safe, no one is safe.

The spread of new COVID-19 variants is compounding the crisis because the available vaccines are less effective against mutated strains of the virus. South Africa suspended its vaccine rollout after clinical trials showed the shot offered minimal protection against its new variant. Neighboring Malawi is one of the countries hit hardest by coronavirus, but it must rely on COVAX to meet the nation’s vaccination needs, which could take years.

COVAX, a global coalition working towards equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, is scrambling to secure vaccine doses for the world’s poorest nations. The coalition’s initial goal is to secure 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 in order to inoculate 20% of the population in the world’s poorest countries

While the upfront cost of supplying low-income countries with vaccines is estimated at $25 billion, delayed global health recovery could have an economic impact up to $1.2 trillion a year globally.