In September 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) set an ambitious global target. The United Nations health agency has called for 70% of the world’s population to be vaccinated by mid-2022.
By this point, just over 3% of people in low-income countries had received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 60.18% in high-income countries.
Six months later, the world is far from achieving this goal.
The total number of vaccines administered has increased dramatically, but so has the inequality of distribution: of the 10.7 billion doses distributed worldwide, only 1% were administered in low-income countries.
This means that 2.8 billion people around the world are still waiting for their first vaccine..
Vaccine inequality puts everyone’s safety at risk and is largely responsible for growing inequalities between and within countries. Not only does this state of affairs risk prolonging the pandemic, but the lack of equity has many other impacts, slowing the economic recovery of entire countries, global labor markets, public debt payments and the ability of countries to invest in other priorities.
Recovery harder than ever
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the poorest countries are struggling more than ever to recover economically, labor markets are hurting, public debt remains stubbornly high and there is not much left in chests to invest in other priorities.
A new UNDP analysis shows that most vulnerable countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad, where less than one percent of the population is fully immunized. Outside of Africa, Haiti and Yemen have yet to reach 2% coverage.
Studies show that if low-income countries had the same vaccination rate as high-income countries in September last year (about 54%), they would have increased their GDP by $16.27 billion in 2021.
The countries that are calculated to have lost the most potential income during the pandemic, due to vaccine inequality, are Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
This revenue loss could have been used to address other pressing development challenges, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the blueprint for organizing for a fair future for people and the planet.
In South Sudan, for example, the costs associated with vaccinations against COVID-19 could have covered all social assistance programs and education expenses in the country, while in Burundi the costs could have provided health care to some 4.7 million people.
While the prolonged lockdowns put in place around the world are hurting workers everywhere, those in developing countries have, once again, been disproportionately affected. Wealthier countries have cushioned the blow by increasing economic support for formal and informal workers, while in low-income countries support has declined between 2020 and 2021.
Where do we go from here?
Urgent access to vaccines and financing – such as the grants and concessions offered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – is, according to the analysis, essential for the poorest countries, alongside support adapted to the situation of every nation.
Many, for example, have benefited from vaccination campaigns run by international organizations, and this experience can inform how vaccinations against COVID-19 are carried out.
And the Global Vaccine Equity Dashboard, developed by UNDP, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the University of Oxford, helps researchers and policymakers conduct their own analysis and to develop the programs that can most effectively benefit their citizens, and contribute to tackling global inequalities.
If vaccine equity is not addressed quickly, the consequences could be serious. As UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on March 10, greater cooperation between countries is needed to quickly stop the pandemic, while a postponement of vaccination could lead to an escalation of societal tensions and violence, and a lost decade for development.