berglof31_AHMAD GHARABLIAFP via Getty Images_covid vaccine Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

The Vaccination Opportunity for Global Health

Although COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time, the global effort to administer them has been plagued by inequities. But it is not too late to ensure that the current race against the coronavirus leaves a lasting legacy of improved public health for developing and emerging economies.

BEIJING – Evolutionary pressures accompanying the spread of the coronavirus have driven the COVID-19 pandemic into a phase in which new variants are starting to pop up everywhere. In response, governments around the world are racing to vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity before the virus acquires a mutation that nullifies existing vaccines’ effectiveness. Sadly, in many emerging and developing economies, this race is being lost, leaving everyone vulnerable to new strains. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The global deployment of COVID-19 vaccines has so far been an ugly free-for-all, with rich and large countries winning out. At this point, many emerging and developing economies probably will not achieve meaningful levels of vaccination until the end of this year, at the earliest. And many of these countries may never get vaccines that have already been pre-purchased, because manufacturers have massively overpromised what they can deliver. Worse, there is now a distinct possibility that the vaccines, even if they do arrive, will no longer be effective, owing to the proliferation of new variants.

But these delays and global-governance failures could yet be made into an opportunity. Because the situation calls for mass-vaccination drives on a global scale, such efforts could serve as a platform for ambitious international initiatives to improve health-system resilience, prepare for future pandemics, and work toward universal health coverage. The recent start of deliveries under the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) mechanism for vaccine finance and deployment is very encouraging.

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