This week, the world received some hopeful news on the COVID-19 vaccine front. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that its vaccine proved to be more than 90% effective at preventing infection during preliminary trials, a promising sign for everyone who eagerly awaits pandemic life to be a thing of the past.

But the creation of a safe and effective vaccine is only the first step toward ending the pandemic. A speedy and equitable distribution process will be just as necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In a new non-peer reviewed paper, researchers at Northeastern University’s MOBS Lab found that if wealthy countries stockpile COVID-19 vaccines, the world will see nearly twice as many deaths than if vaccines were shared equally across the globe.

“When countries cooperate, the number of deaths is cut in half,” said Matteo Chinazzi, a senior research assistant and one of the leaders of the MOBS Lab.

This drastic difference in lives saved highlights the need for equitable access to treatments and vaccines, especially against a global health threat that knows no borders.

The paper, published in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, looked at the potential number of lives lost in two scenarios in which a vaccine had been available in mid-March when the virus started spreading.

In one scenario, which scientists call “uncooperative allocation,” around 50 high-income countries monopolize the first 2 billion doses of the vaccine. Since these countries have more resources, they have the power to hoard vaccines for their own citizens, intentionally preventing low- and middle-income countries from accessing critical services.

On the other hand, in a “cooperative allocation” scenario, doses of the vaccine are distributed based on a country’s population rather than its income or ability to purchase the vaccine.

The models found that if 3 billion doses of an 80% effective vaccine were distributed equitably back in mid-March, 61% of deaths could have been prevented. This compares to only 33% of deaths prevented if high-income countries decided to stockpile vaccines.

“That’s quite a difference,” said Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute and one of the leaders of the MOBS Lab. “You see immediately that, on the global level, the [cooperative] scenario is far superior, and not even just for ethical reasons.”

Read the full article about equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution by Kristine Liao at Global Citizen.