Reflections on the Economist Intelligence Unit Report on Vaccine Inequity

Annette Nabayi, 8th November 2021

Overview

Vaccine inequity explains how COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out in an unequal manner between advanced and developing economies. Presently, the European countries have recorded higher vaccination levels of their population while the African and other developing states have evidenced a 1% vaccination rate. Consequently, the EIU report on vaccine inequity predicts economic losses for the developed and developing nations resulting out of vaccine inequality. The unequal distribution of the vaccine globally might lead to a loss of $2.3 trillion GDP between 2022 and 2025. In this blog, I reflect on the findings of the report on vaccine inequity. I will outline the identified causes of vaccine inequity and then describe its impact on the developing world. Towards the end I will suggest some action steps.

Causes of Vaccine Inequity

The report states that vaccine inequity has been triggered by aspects such as shortage of raw materials resulting in lessened production abilities, specifically in developing states. Other aspects entail limited availability of finance which developing states can spend between meeting basic needs of its population and purchasing vaccines, reduced healthcare staff to administer the vaccines, poor infrastructure to transport the vaccines, and vaccine hesitancy.

Impact of Vaccine Inequity

The report projects that by mid-2022, many states will have vaccinated less than 60% of their citizens. Most countries in Europe, North America, South America, and China have already attained the 60% rate while two-thirds of African countries are yet to reach this rate will attain the 60% level from 2023 onwards. The states that have vaccinated less than 60% of their population will record a GDP loss of $2.3 trillion between 2022 and 2025. Countries in Asia will be highly affected with an estimated loss of $1.7 trillion while Africa will be severely impacted with an evaluated 3% level of the predicted GDP in 2022 to 2025. The need to increase the vaccination level to the recommended 60% degree will help in the dismissal of social distancing measures, increase in revenue from tourism and business travel activities, and preventing probable social unrest of prolonged struggle against COVID-19.

Bridging the Vaccine-Access Gap

The vaccine access gap might last long that anticipated only few vaccines have been distributed. COVAX is an initiative by WHO with a goal of providing equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. It is to ensure all countries receive a fair share of vaccines under which 1.9 billion doses have been pledged. From the time of this pledge in 2020, only 210 million doses have been shipped to Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. COVAX will help bridge vaccine inequality through fair distribution of the vaccines. Advanced economies such as Russia that have pledged to provide vaccines to developing nations has evidenced production challenges hence the delivery delay. China’s pledge of vaccines has been adversely influenced by claims that the vaccines have low levels of protection. Seychelles had to impose lockdown after the inoculation of the China vaccine while Chile administered boosters to the inoculated China’s Sinovac vaccine.

Way Forward

The vaccine’s essence is to provide safeguards against infection. Therefore, the need to determine sustainable approaches to treat COVID-19. Currently, some states are formulating COVID strategies such as informed scientific input, strong political commitment, and decisive actions that might eliminate COVID.

Towards a Framework Convention on Global Health : A Fiscal Perspective

Achieving health globally requires a combination of a change in thinking and action as well as a financing of certain aspects; there are both fiscal and non-fiscal challenges to the achievement of health globally for all people whether they live in developed or developing countries. However, what will it take to eliminate the gross health inequities that continue to plague the world, the unconscionable health gaps between the rich and poor?

Today the world is focusing on two different processes in an attempt to achieve health as well as other important milestones in the well-being of all people. The Financing for Development process on the one hand is looking to encourage and crystallize fiscal commitments of states while the SDG discussions are focusing on the basic needs and rights of peoples that can be achieved in the post 2015 period.

The eyes of the global health community are similarly focused on the post-2015 sustainable development goals, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) is advocating for universal health coverage: global health with justice  improving healthy lives for everyone, with particular attention to marginalised communities worldwide and its fiscal implications. The sustainable development agenda, however, cannot achieve global health with justice without robust fiscal global, regional and national level governance. A proposal has been made for the adoption of a legally binding global health treaty – a framework convention on global health grounded in the right to health.

While many may argue that there is treaty fatigue and perhaps too many treaties there remains the need to crystallise one particular principle in human rights treaties: rights require resources. The continued reliance on the idealism of human rights without reference to the reality of the need to fund it can no longer be ignore and if for no other reason a framework convention on global health could allow for the clear recognition of this principle. The financing of health under the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights places the responsibility of progressive realisation on both domestic states as well as through international co-operation and assistance and to date this has remained within the discretion of states as they choose to assist or not, health is a global issue: diseases cross borders as easily as the wind can blow and both these arms of realisation need further clarity within a treaty framework.

The understanding of the right to health remains partially clouded and this hinders both domestic and international accountability for international human rights obligations. To solve this problem, a framework convention on global health could bring clarity and precision to norms and standards surrounding the right to health, including states’ duties to “take steps…to the maximum of their available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation” of the right to health. Most importantly, the framework convention on global health could build on a progressive post-2015 development framework by putting specific standards and forceful accountability behind the post-2015 global commitments for both the SDGs as well as the FfD processes.