The COVID-19 pandemic will only truly end when everyone has access to vaccines, including people in the poorest countries. Global immunization offers the best hope for stopping the spread of infections, saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
People cannot reach their potential until they can study, work, travel and socialize again knowing they are safe from COVID-19. Distributing vaccines more widely is therefore an urgent need.
The pandemic has deepened inequalities, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable hard. In developing countries, women, children, the poor and informal sector workers have paid an extremely high price as COVID-19 has suppressed livelihoods, closed classrooms and prevented urgent social spending.
Delays in launching immunization roll-out in developing countries deepen global inequalities and leave hundreds of millions of elderly and vulnerable people at risk. I continue to urge countries with sufficient vaccine to distribute their additional doses as soon as possible to developing countries that have established distribution programs.
Some countries have gone far beyond immunizing their most at-risk citizens. But many others have yet to receive doses, let alone give them widely to vulnerable people. Many of the poorest countries have limited immunization capacity and it will take several months to immunize many of the most at-risk groups.
This illogical approach – using limited vaccine stocks in a handful of countries while low- and middle-income economies wait indefinitely for doses – makes no sense to anyone. More lives will be lost, global economic growth will be more uneven, and even countries with high vaccination rates will be more exposed to new variants of the coronavirus than they would be if developing countries had better access to vaccines.
The longer it takes to achieve widespread immunization of vulnerable people, the higher the risk of extreme poverty in 2021 and 2022, which in turn will trigger future health and social crises.
Running a large-scale immunization campaign is a major undertaking for any country, but the logistics are particularly difficult for countries with limited resources and fragile health systems. The ongoing COVID-19 disaster in India and the spike in infections and deaths in Latin America are a grim reminder that the pandemic is more severe than ever for many of the world’s poor. A successful global immunization effort must rest on three pillars.
First, countries with an adequate supply of vaccines should immediately distribute doses to vulnerable people around the world. This may mean exercising options and guiding vaccines to other countries, or making it clear to manufacturers that they can ship supplies quickly without risking legal risks.
Or it could involve meeting funding commitments for the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility set up by the international community to fairly allocate doses to the poorest countries.
The World Bank already has board-approved funding available in 22 developing countries, and several dozen more are expected by mid-year as part of the fast-track process we used. for COVID-19 emergency aid in 2020. This US $ 12 billion can facilitate rapid vaccine deployment. through national health systems and pay for vaccine purchases and shipments if necessary.
Standardized and transparent contracts that provide for fair and equitable distribution are essential. If vaccine supplies are channeled through COVAX, which plans to immunize the most vulnerable 20 percent of countries’ populations, World Bank funding can be used to help with distribution and to purchase additional supplies to immunize more people. people.
Second, we need greater transparency regarding contracts between governments, pharmaceutical companies and organizations involved in the production and delivery of vaccines so that funding can be directed effectively and countries can plan for their receipt and delivery. their deployment. It is also essential to enable the private sector investments that will be needed to increase supply.
With this in mind, the World Bank is launching a comprehensive online portal that offers easy access to information on our projects, including country financing operations. The portal will also incorporate what has been learned from the vaccine readiness assessments we have helped undertake with more than 140 countries over the past semester, in close collaboration with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund, World Health Organization and UNICEF.
Thus, the Bank’s online portal is also an invitation to vaccine manufacturers, buyers and intermediaries to follow suit, and another call to those who monitor the supply of approved vaccines to distribute them to safe and well-funded deployment programs. The third pillar is increasing vaccine production.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, has invested more than US $ 800 million in health care, including vaccine manufacturers. And it currently has an additional $ 1.2 billion pending through the Global Health Platform, a $ 4 billion funding mechanism created to help meet immediate needs for vaccines, medical equipment and health services.
IFC is actively working with governments and businesses on the early-stage development of commercially viable pharmaceutical manufacturing projects, including for COVID-19 vaccines.
The pandemic has overwhelmed health systems around the world, even in the most developed countries. We now need to strengthen them, not only to cope with the vaccination effort, but also to prevent and treat COVID-19 and ensure the full range of essential health services.
The global COVID-19 vaccination campaign will be the largest in history – unprecedented in scale, speed and complexity.
Our goal must be to execute it as quickly, widely and safely as possible; learn from what worked and what did not; and strengthen preparedness and resilience to future crises.
COVAX: the global COVID vaccine sharing plan
COVID: Rich countries failed around the world