From Trials to Vials: Ensuring an Equitable Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Emily Conroy is a 4th year medical student at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


As we approach a year since the first COVID-19 case in Europe, we are all keen to conclude this chapter of our history, a chapter which has altered the course of our entire lives and for many, our views on life itself. Our hope now, as a global community, is to eradicate this virus and perhaps return to life as we once knew it, through mass administration of vaccines.

However, there are billions of people in low-income countries for whom the vaccine will continue to be unreachable if we do not carefully consider our approach to global immunisation. We have seen this inequity in previous times of crisis, be it the Ebola virus or the HIV/AIDs pandemic. The communities worst affected by these health threats are often overlooked early on and not provided with the life-saving public health interventions which they so desperately require.

It is a remarkable achievement that less than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic first began, multiple safe and effective vaccines have been developed. Now, as global vaccine rollout begins, it gives us hope that the end of this devastating crisis may be in sight. However, to end this pandemic, we cannot only vaccinate people in some countries; it is vital that we protect all people everywhere. Herd immunity is necessary to beat the virus and we are part of one global herd.

The Global Allied Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are currently leading an initiative called the COVAX facility – a global mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX hopes to facilitate the distribution of 1.8 billion vaccines by year end, ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are available to people living in the world’s 92 low- and middle- income countries. For 2021 alone, this initiative requires almost $7 billion in funds to achieve its ambitious goal. Thus, a significant amount of international support is required to ensure a true equitable distribution of vaccines.

We must be wary to avoid a repeat of the swine flu pandemic, where rich countries purchased the majority of H1N1 vaccine supply, leaving the rest of the world with none. Around the world, over 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given so far, with only 25 (not 25,000 or 2500) doses being given in a lower-income country. It is recognised with full understanding that every national government’s priority is to protect its own citizens first but numerous countries have purchased far more vaccines than they require, bypassing COVAX and adding additional pressure to global supply at this critical initial phase.

I urge all people, whether in positions of power or not, to recognise our global interconnectedness at this time of crisis – we have seen how the health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19 knew no borders. And so now our solidarity and advocacy should know no borders. We must act as an international collective and strive for an equitable global distribution of these life-saving vaccines, acknowledging that no country is truly safe until we all are.

References

  1. Binagwaho, A., Mathewos, K. and Kadetz, P., 2021. A Call For Equitable Distribution Of Covid-19 Vaccines – The BMJ. [online] The BMJ. Available at: <https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/12/02/a-call-for-equitable-distribution-of-covid-19-vaccines/&gt; [Accessed 20 January 2021].
  2. Okonjo-Iweala, N., 2021. Globalizing The COVID Vaccine. [online] Gavi.org. Available at: <https://www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/globalizing-covid-vaccine&gt; [Accessed 21 January 2021].
  3. Who.int. 2020. COVAX ANNOUNCES ADDITIONAL DEALS TO ACCESS PROMISING COVID-19 VACCINE CANDIDATES; PLANS GLOBAL ROLLOUT STARTING Q1 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/news/item/18-12-2020-covax-announces-additional-deals-to-access-promising-covid-19-vaccine-candidates-plans-global-rollout-starting-q1-2021&gt; [Accessed 23 January 2021].
  4. Kelland, K., 2021. COVAX Says To Supply 1.8 Billion COVID Vaccine Doses To Poor In ’21, Warns Of Uncertainties. [online] U.S. Available at: <https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-covax-idUSL1N2JW0ON&gt; [Accessed 23 January 2021].
  5. RTE.ie. 2021. Covax: The Global Plan To Share Covid Vaccines. [online] Available at: <https://www.rte.ie/news/2021/0121/1191234-covax/&gt; [Accessed 23 January 2021].
  6. Ritchie, H. et. Al, 2021. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations – Statistics And Research. [online] Our World in Data. Available at: <https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations&gt; [Accessed 24 January 2021].

About the author

Emily Conroy is a 4th year medical student at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland. She is currently both the President of the Association of Medical Students Ireland (AMSI), and a committee member of UCD Medical Society. As President, she is Ireland’s representative to the International Federation of Medical Student’s Associations (IFMSA), an inspiring and engaging network of over 1 million medical students. Emily is a 1st Class Honors student and was a recipient of the 2017 All Ireland Scholarship for excellence in her school leaving exams.

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