Pre-Collegiate Global Health Review
The Future of Vaccine Inequity
Josh Russman, Solon High School, Solon, Ohio, USA
Thirty-seven percent of the world is vaccinated against COVID-19, yet this number inaccurately represents the nominal three percent of individuals that are vaccinated in low-income countries (Broncaccio and Shin, 2021). Such a divide in treatment is unethical and overcomplicated. Lead researcher, Dr. Jeanine Guidry, a professor who studies demographic differences in health, conducted a comprehensive study in April of 2021 which clarified the situation: 60% of individuals in the US supported donating a nominal amount of America’s COVID-19 vaccine supply, or even none at all (Guidry et al, 2021). COVAX, a global initiative started by the World Health Organization, aimed to mitigate vaccine inequality in the COVID pandemic; however, it has proven to be unsuccessful. Developing countries continue to lack equal access to COVID vaccines. Therefore, it is imperative that we ask the question: to what extent should developed countries be responsible for unequal vaccine distribution, including COVID vaccines, around the world? In doing so, it is critical to analyze the impact of vaccines on international relations, economics, and scientific advancements that will work towards more efficient and equitable vaccine distribution.
Foreign policy, looking ahead, will drastically change due to the COVID pandemic. Some countries have developed unique ties with low-income countries based on vaccine agreements. These international relations, as a result, modify the standing political climate. Dr. Moon, at the Harvard Global Health Institute, and other researchers published an in-depth editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine that places political strategy as one of the highest priorities for ending the COVID pandemic. By assessing current efforts in such fields, negotiations “binding international rules” will “avert similar inequities in the future” (Moon et al, 2021). It is still vital to place heavy importance on political control of COVID vaccines, but reviewing countries put at risk in such situations is of more pressing concern. Essentially, these circumstances are a “new foreign policy tool that errs on the side of coercive and unethical political tactics” (Qadir, 2021). The issue continues to present itself within the intentions of these governments. While they may seem sincere, they are, in actuality, flimsy and produce immoral efforts to give their countries a leg up in diplomatic affairs. For example, Honduras has moved their embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv as an official recognition of Israeli land claims. To combat immoral exchanges expressed by Qadir and Moon, Dr. Katz (2021), associate professor at Harvard studying HPV vaccine adherence, and other researchers provide more substantive actions as a solution. They believe that we must look towards past operations to adapt our future response. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was necessary for treatment distribution to low-income countries in order to control the AIDS epidemic. A similar diplomatic strategy, if implemented correctly, could be used to “augment funding for vaccine production and delivery...[while] building critical health infrastructures” (Katz et al, 2021). Improving such conditions would provide equitable access while ensuring a balance of global power.
It is true that countries are politically affected, but the global economy as a result is influenced even more. When looking towards the future it is imperative that we examine the best economic course of action. A Joint News Release from the World Health Organization (WHO) stresses the impact that vaccine inequality serves to place on lower-income countries. It is clear that the WHO places vaccine inequity into an even larger context by explaining how “an acceleration in scaling up manufacturing and sharing enough vaccine doses with low-income countries could have added $38 billion to their GDP forecast for 2021” (Vaccine inequity, 2021). While developed countries continue to prosper, underdeveloped regions are pushed back even further. These perspectives add meaning to the influence of vaccination towards economic growth for stakeholders. Abhijit Banerjee, professor of economics at MIT, contrasts his viewpoint with others as he believes that vaccination, if anything, would add “very likely a small positive contribution” to this question on economic growth (Will vaccine, 2021). Although these ideas are opposing, they continue to corroborate the reflections of Dr. Pagán, Chair and Professor of the Department of Public Health Policy and Management at NYU. In the American Journal of Public Health, he suggests that investments in previous health related policies have actually allowed the US to formulate a better response to COVID in terms of Public Health. Investments, such as the Affordable Care Act, allow larger hospitals to function in a way that would not be systematically possible without previous developments (Pagán, 2021). Overall, increasing funding in the healthcare sector will positively impact vaccination in the future as seen by the successes of the past.
The Future in Science
Based on these changes in the global economy it seems that the largest contender may be vaccine advancements. Large strides in vaccine distribution have been made. Notably, Dr. Gerberding, former director of the United States Center for Disease Control during the SARS outbreak, explains that “new insights into the functioning of the immune system on a cellular and molecular level have made possible the rapid development of new vaccines” (Gerberding and Haynes, 2021). In utilizing these advancements, immunologists will best be prepared to combat future viruses. Above all, accessibility for these vaccines remains the number one priority. Our current goals should therefore be structured to use such technologies to do so. Taking these factors into account, it is crucial to examine detailed solutions that utilize recent advancements in order to mend antiquated processes. For example, some argue that a general vaccine plan that emphasizes a reduction in cold storage, efficient vaccine transport, and increased managerial action in health centers will effectively give vaccines to each and every nation in need. Removing such barriers to vaccine access will greatly improve our response to future viruses (Lloyd and Cheyne, 2017). Looking even further into the future Dr. Brilliant, the man credited with the eradication of smallpox, builds onto this perspective. He insists that “we need a vaccine that doesn’t require injection... [and] doesn’t require cold storage.” Brilliant is even optimistic that we are not too far off from “a vaccine that gives us mucosal immunity, so that people don’t get the disease in the first place” (Broncaccio and Shin, 2021). Through his explanations, it is clear that his solutions give a unique perspective towards the future of COVID and other viruses. Using recent scientific advancements combined with his suggestions, we can provide hope in taking control of viruses and eliminating vaccine barriers as a whole. If we fail to act upon this opportunity the situation will fester; thus, it is all-important that we follow the guidance of others to protect our own communities.
These conclusions have significant applications in the broader domain of global health. If we can look towards our future to mitigate inequity in treatments while providing the most efficient treatment, we can work against preventable disease and death for all. Moreover, this topic holds a larger influence on international relations. Our global economy in response plays an extreme role in these connections. Ultimately, using more advanced methods to predict future situations will expand our response to prospective viruses. Therefore, it is critical that we act now to aid future generations toward reducing health disparities.
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Gerberding, J. L., & Haynes, B. F. (2021). Vaccine Innovations - Past and Future. The New England journal of medicine, 384(5), 393–396. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2029466
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Pagán J. A. (2021). Excess Deaths During the COVID-19 Economic Downturn. American journal of public health, 111(11), 1947–1949. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2021.306507
Qadir, I. A. (2021, April). Vaccine Disparities: The Future of Foreign Policy? Berkeley Political Review. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://bpr.berkeley.edu/2021/04/17/vaccine-disparities-the-future-of-foreign-policy/
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Article Thumbnail: Caniceus. (2020, May 22). Pixabay. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://pixabay.com/photos/corona-covid-covid-19-coronavirus-5198347/.