The approval of various COVID-19 vaccines seems like a game changer in the course of the pandemic. The vaccines offer hope that vulnerable populations can be better protected and that people's social and economic lives can perhaps return to normal, or at least closer to it.

However, the virus is not static. New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are emerging frequently. Just as dangerous to human health, these variants tend to be more transmissible than the original. Variants have emerged in the UK, South Africa, South America, and North America and recent evidence around the new Novavax vaccine suggests that it is highly effective against the British variant but less so against the South African.

If some vaccines are likely to be less effective as new variants arise, it makes the argument for the rapid and global distribution of effective vaccines even stronger. Any delays to worldwide vaccine access will only prolong the pandemic. If some countries only get access to a vaccine by 2024, as some estimates suggest, then the virus could rage in some populations and may mutate to an extent that it renders the existing vaccines less effective, or in the worst case scenario ineffective.

However, high-income governments are already stockpiling vaccines to ensure that they can vaccinate their populations now, and in the immediate future, including those people in low-risk groups. And if new or updated vaccines are required to mitigate against new variants of the virus, the stockpiling may continue.

Also, the nature of the global economic system means that hoarding vaccines may lead to further losses in global economic output. This is because economies worldwide are closely interlinked and a prolonged pandemic in low-income countries will cost high-income countries more than if they funded vaccine distribution in poorer nations.

Read the full article about KEYWORD by Marco Hafner and Christian Van Stolk at RAND Corporation.