The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing losses globally, with many countries reporting higher numbers of infections and hospitalizations than ever before. The good news is that in countries where vaccines are available, overall mortality is lower, which shows that vaccines are working at the community level. The bad news is that under the conspiracy of international politics, huge profits and domestic complacency, the vast majority of the world’s population is still unvaccinated. As of July 2022, only 25.3% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and of the 3.4 billion doses that have been vaccinated globally, only 1% have been vaccinated in low-income countries.

We are freely falling into an era of unprecedented inequality, thanks in large part to the bad decisions made by the world’s political class. The world is already severely inequality, and poor countries bear the largest share of the global disease burden with scarce resources. But despite the assertion that this epidemic will be a good equalizer, the result is an accelerator of inequality. Since the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Wuhan Province in December 2019, the wealth of world billionaires has increased by 45%, or about US$1.3 trillion, but according to United Nations estimates, the global unemployment rate will rise to the highest level in history , More than 200 million new cases are a direct result of the pandemic.

All of this makes the current global vaccine inequality particularly threatening. The lives of billions of people are at risk, because rich countries hinder the freer provision of vaccines, potentially exacerbating already-increasing inequality. In contrast, 69% of Canada’s 38 million people received at least one dose, while only 65,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (population 89 million) received at least one dose. Between them, the US drugstore chain Wal-Mart and CVS wasted at least 180,000 doses of vaccines—more than most African countries manage. The COVAX plan aims to coordinate countries to purchase enough vaccines for 20% of its population so that at least all medical workers in the world can get the vaccines, thereby making the global access to vaccines more equitable-the vaccines have been used up. Most of COVAX’s vaccines are purchased from India, but the “World Vaccine Factory” has implemented export controls after being hit by the third wave of COVID-19.

If countries like Haiti and Chad that have not formally received any vaccines do not quickly protect their front-line health care workers, the risk is not only that these people will lose their lives, but the already weak medical system will collapse. People are not because of COVID-19. If you stop contracting other diseases or need treatment for other things, if a fragile country loses a sufficient number of medical professionals, this may lead to a lag that will take several generations to overcome.

But it does not have to be so. Since the beginning of the pandemic, poor countries have been making difficult policy decisions to stop the outbreak. The strict lockdown has kept the number of hospitalizations at a low level. But these public health measures have also weakened the economy and led to unemployment and hunger epidemics. Millions of migrant workers and temporary workers have lost their jobs because they are often brutally forced to stop work, but they bear the burden because the promise is a temporary situation that aims to prevent the outbreak of the epidemic until a longer-term solution is found. People feel hungry, angry, and frustrated, but they are not working fast to provide the mid-term solutions that now exist faster, but in the rich countries fighting for profit and the pharmaceutical industry they protect.

Of course, the lack of vaccines in some poor countries is partly due to poor domestic policies. In Kenya, Cameroon and South Africa, the pandemic response is rife with allegations of corruption and misappropriation of public funds. In September 2020, the Auditor General of Kenya shared that the country lost US$2.3 million in the procurement scandal of the Kenya Medical Supplies Administration (KEMSA), which is responsible for overseeing the country’s PPE procurement. In South Africa, in June 2022, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize was suspended for a scandal involving the irregular distribution of communications contracts in support of the pandemic. Unfortunately, Tanzania and Madagascar live under the leadership of the president. They either deny the existence of the disease or the effectiveness of scientific treatment.

But these domestic failures alone cannot explain the inequality of global vaccination results. First, even in Africa, these countries are outliers. To date, most African countries have not had corruption scandals related to their pandemic response, but have faithfully (and sometimes slowly) allocated resources to the growing threat of the pandemic. For example, Côte d’Ivoire (Côte d’Ivoire) received 600,000 doses of vaccine from COVAX. The initial use of the vaccine was slow due to great public hesitation, but despite the political uncertainty caused by the 2022 general election in the country, the government fought back against misinformation and has so far vaccinated 850,000 people. In short, Côte d’Ivoire has used up its COVAX allocation and then some, but now there is no vaccine to buy.

More importantly, corruption in the COVID-19 response is not unique to Africa. In April 2022, the international anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International found that as part of the response to the coronavirus, one-fifth of the government contracts allocated by the British government contained “one or more red flags of corruption”. However, less than 68% of adults in the UK have been vaccinated. In fact, according to The Lancet, the UK has reached five bilateral agreements for 270 million doses of vaccines for 66 million people, enough to meet the needs of 225% of its population. However, the United Kingdom also paid US$98 million for COVAX’s 27 million doses of vaccine, and received 500,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine through COVAX in April 2022. It is not enough to point out that corruption is the reason why African countries cannot obtain vaccines.

In fact, the global vaccine supply chain is jammed, and manufacturers cannot keep up with global demand. This is largely due to the fact that wealthy Western countries violated an agreement to vaccinate frontline health care workers around the world before opening vaccination to the general population. At a conference on vaccine supply in Africa in April, Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel told attendees that he has no excess capacity-every time a box of vaccine is completed at the factory, it will be shipped out and delivered immediately. So, if according to the company’s own website, a drop of Moderna vaccine is not provided in a poor country, what can we infer? Rich countries are now talking about using part of their production capacity to make boosters. What does this mean?

COVAX should be a fair pause. During the worst outbreak in the West, people are singing the song of global solidarity. This is an opportunity to give all countries in the world a fighter meeting. China has pledged to provide Kovacs with 110 million doses of Sinopharm and Kexing vaccine. This should help, but it is not enough to bridge the gap. The third wave has arrived, and new variants may destroy the efficacy of existing vaccines. We need a fair suspension, but in the medium term, the easiest way to alleviate this traffic congestion is to make it possible for more countries to produce vaccines. Cuba is leading the way by making vaccine technology more accessible. Gamaleya (manufacturer of artificial satellite vaccine) also promised to share its technology with manufacturers in Argentina. This is an important part of the multi-pronged strategy advocated by African countries and many other countries in the world, including India. Abandoning patent rights will enable countries with manufacturing capabilities to replicate vaccine formulations without fear of being punished.

Asking corrupt governments to take responsibility is completely effective, and indeed crucial. Domestic activists have already done this because we cannot free the government from responsibility for theft and waste. But if the rich countries try to use charity as a buffer for injustice, these demands will be vanished. If there are no vaccines available for purchase, we cannot ask our government to reschedule spending on the purchase of vaccines. If we can only wait for the leftovers that are planned to appear for a long time after the emergency, we cannot save the lives threatened by the third wave.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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