By António Proa
The worldwide effort to discover the vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus was remarkable. In time and in international cooperation. The production of vaccines was also remarkable and, even before, the articulation in taking preventive measures and the availability of means for possible protection revealed an important mobilization. Equipment and, above all, health professionals responded in an extraordinary way to this pandemic.
However, inequality in the world was, once again, in plain sight in the access and distribution of vaccines. Unfortunately, inequalities are not new: in access to food, water, education or healthcare. The world is very unfair. But this time, the emergency, the global effort in the face of the pandemic, the international promises of support to the poorest countries and even, in a selfish way, the consequence for the behavior of the pandemic of an asymmetric vaccination would imply that the inequalities in access to vaccines would be smaller. But not.
Worldwide, 58% of the population has been vaccinated with at least one dose. In the European Union the rate is 73%. The group of the most developed countries in the world (G7) have vaccination rates equal to or greater than 73%. In South America vaccination coverage is 76% and in Asia 66%. All these countries, regions or continents exceeded the target of 40% of people vaccinated by the end of this year set by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, in Africa only 14% of the population had access to at least one dose of the vaccine and only 9% had full vaccination.
The inequality in the distribution of vaccines around the world is glaring. Africa – the poorest continent –, with more than a billion inhabitants, does not have access to vaccines due to lack of financial capacity and organization. However, many countries have already started vaccination with the booster dose and some have announced the administration of a fourth dose.
The international cooperation that was observed in the reaction to the pandemic did not materialize in solidarity with the poorest countries. WHO, the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI) – an international organization that finances and promotes global vaccination and COVAX (WHO’s program for vaccination COVID-19) – and the Group of Most Developed Countries (G7) have announced goals, targets, financial resources and vaccines to alleviate inequalities in access to vaccination. However, all goals have failed. Despite the financial resources gathered (largely with contributions from the G7), immunization in Africa does not materialize.
In addition to the obvious inequality, there is also a question of global public health. As has been stated by the WHO, physicians and scientists, the lack of sufficient vaccine coverage allows for the development of the virus and promotes the possibility of mutations that potentially generate more aggressive viruses and for which current vaccines may not be effective.
This inequality, in addition to being unjust in itself, is dangerous and could put all of humanity at risk (again). If not for the sense of solidarity, then at least for the sense of survival, but it is important that this unbearable inequality is urgently alleviated.