The Future of Vaccine Accessibility

As countries around the world attempt to fight a relentless battle with Covid 19, the release of multiple vaccines has given a glimmer of hope for resolving the ongoing pandemic. But, as the United States leads in both vaccine production and distribution, can the U.S. and other wealthy countries do more for countries who struggle to access the necessary resources?

Indonesia, among many other countries, began its vaccination roll-out in January this year. Despite Indonesian President, Jokowi Widodo, and the rest of the Indonesian government’s efforts in controlling the pandemic, which have caused cases and deaths to plummet to somewhat manageable levels, the resolution to this pandemic continues to move out of reach for the developing country. Tyler Cowen, an opinion columnist for Bloomberg writes: “Poor infrastructure and distribution are making it difficult for the 270 million inhabitants of Indonesia to get vaccinated…Indonesia is not usually the focus of attention – and people are not sufficiently obsessed with the supply side.”

Along with many other countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia’s situation mirrors that of several other developing countries at the moment and reflects a crucial issue: there are simply not enough doses. Adi Renaldi, from the Washington Post, writes that “at the current pace, it would take Indonesia 10 years to reach its [vaccination] goal.” The source of this problem lies in the lack of funds to continue distributing vaccination doses. Indonesia’s economy has a strong reliance on the country’s growing tourism industry and manual labor, two industries which were affected greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic. This isn’t an isolated issue: places such as Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, which have a heavy reliance on agriculture, tourism and production, are all struggling to inoculate their respective communities. Without proper funds to secure and distribute vaccinations, countries who have been hit hardest by the pandemic will continue to lag behind in their respective vaccination rollout programs. To this situation, Tyler Cowen’s article “Bring Back Supply-Side Economics” poses a question: “The biggest question for the world is whether the wealthier nations will put up the estimated $25 billion needed to jump-start a global vaccination campaign…So far, it appears they will not.” 

It’s incredibly important that a worldwide effort is put into action to support countries that don’t have the ability to produce or receive the same amounts of vaccination doses as other wealthier countries. Any government’s initial priority would be to inoculate their local communities before moving onto a global effort. Yet, the underlying incentives to reopen the international economy should persuade all government bodies to participate in inoculating the international community. Although some countries such as the United States of America, Korea and Germany have been able to reopen local businesses and return to a level of normalcy, industries such as tourism, transportation and the entertainment industries depend on the safety of all members of a global society. Tourism in the United States alone composes 8.6% of its economy and 10.7% of the United States total workforce.

Having local communities inoculated will soon be a very real scenario, and therefore countries can shift to international efforts. Again, using the examples of the United States of the America, President Biden plans to instruct all “states, Tribes, and territories to make all adults eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine no later than May 1st,” and states such as California, Idaho, New-York and Alaska have already opened up eligibility for everyone, including children of ages 12 and over, to receive a Covid-19 vaccination dose. Even so, countries such as the United States of America continue to stockpile vaccination, limiting accessibility and allowing for a precious resource to expire. As countries move towards the complete or partial inoculation of their communities, the priority should shift from stockpiling vaccinations, to ensuring vaccinations for the rest of the world.

Whilst the cost of 25 billion dollars needed for an international distribution of vaccination doses will notably be a challenge, there is another path that governments can put into action to further reinstate equal vaccine accessibility and distribution. Sharing methods and instructions for vaccine production is an easy and efficient alternative that both governments and vaccine companies have complete control over. Although independent companies would be forced to give up temporary profits, this method would mean that countries who currently are not able to access vaccines manufactured internationally can start production locally. Government contributions by the respective local agencies located near vaccination companies (Such as China, United States and the United Kingdoms), can aid this swift change in vaccine manufacturing by funding preliminary production in places such as the DCVMN (Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturing Network), which includes countries such as Indonesia, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, who already have pre-existing resources to produce Covid-19 vaccine doses. Another option would be to redistribute unused or “soon to be expired” doses of Covid-19 vaccinations. This would include the tens of millions doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, currently not being used in the United States. Over 70 countries would be able to utilize the stockpile of vaccination doses, according to a company spokesperson via the New York Times.

If rich and developed countries want to revitalize their economies and ensure the safety of their communities through international vaccination endeavors,  it will require a collective effort to jumpstart such an operation. With countries such as the United States, UAE, UK and China leading the frontier in domestic vaccine distribution and inoculation, taking a front in a world wide effort would be the best chance to come on step closer to ending the global Covid-19 pandemic.