VACCINE nationalism has distorted the supply and deployment of vaccines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, said Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony. The minster made the remarks while delivering an address to the World Forum for Ethics in Business on Wednesday, during a virtual conference held on World Health Day, under the theme “changing paradigms in a pandemic world”. Dr. Anthony is optimistic that fora such as World Forum for Ethics in Business would help initiate a shift from vaccine nationalism to vaccine equity.
In his address, he noted that while pandemics are nothing new to the world, the COVID-19 pandemic differed from that of previous pandemics consequent primarily to global connectivity, which resulted in spread of the virus from country to country in a short period. “The pandemic’s effects were further compounded by the misinformation, which constantly swirls around social media creating fear and distrust,” he stated. He elaborated that based on the stringency of the measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus and the effectiveness of how those measures were deployed, despite the ‘global connectivity’, different countries have reacted and coped with the pandemic uniquely.
“The crisis is far from over, as the emergence of new variants, relaxing some of the earlier public measures, and other factors have now created a third global wave and, in others a fourth wave of increasing cases and deaths,’ he said. “On the economic side, securing people’s livelihoods has become quite challenging; many businesses have gone under. Many persons have lost their jobs, and there isn’t any safety net to prevent the most vulnerable from slipping into further poverty,” he added.
LOT OF HOPE
Dr. Anthony noted that to exit the pandemic and return to “normalcy” a lot of hope has been placed on vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, with vaccines being the sole mechanism which can help to achieve herd immunity and restore some level of normalcy. “Unfortunately, vaccine nationalism has distorted the supply and deployment of vaccines,” the Minister of Health related. In making his claim, he cited an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, titled “from vaccine nationalism to vaccine equity” which notes “Vaccine distribution remains nonexistent in many of the poorest countries, and experts anticipate that 80 per cent of the population in low resource setting will not receive a vaccine this year”.
“The theme for this year’s World Health Day is building a fairer and healthier world. To do so, we urgently need to close the vaccine gap between rich and developing countries,” Dr. Anthony told the forum. He noted that failure to do so will result in highly likely outcome for the emergence of variants of the virus, reinfections, and new forms of discrimination between vaccinated and non-vaccinated. He listed several measures described as concrete which may be taken to make a difference pertaining to vaccine equity, namely expedited approvals and Emergency Use Listings of vaccines by the World Health Organisation; COVAX needing to go beyond 20 per cent for 2021; and improving logistics of moving vaccines properly.
He also recommended that richer countries that have secured surplus vaccines should share with poorer countries; therapeutics that are provided emergency use authorisation and have passed the clinical trials should be shared with poorer countries to enhance treatment options and a global system to track variants. “I hope that organisations such as the World Forum for Ethics in Business would help shift the prevailing attitude from vaccine nationalism to vaccine equity, where all countries can race to herd immunity in the shortest possible time,” Dr. Anthony said.