More than a year after COVID-19 vaccines have become available, it is apparent that early vows to prioritize equitable access on a global scale have not translated into action. Instead, the global vaccination campaign against COVID-19 succumbed to the influence of wealth and the desire to profit. As countries rushed to secure doses for their own populations, the intent to ensure vaccine equity fell by the wayside.

The result is a severe global imbalance in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations. In high-income countries, 74% of people are fully vaccinated (with two doses or equivalent), compared to only 12% in low-income countries. Regionally, Africa has fallen significantly behind. Only 16% of the region’s population are fully vaccinated. In stark contrast, the US, Canada, and Europe have already administered booster shots to an average of 40% of their populations.

The lack of vaccination coverage in low- and middle-income countries has given the virus more of a chance to mutate and potentially evolve into variants that are more infectious, dangerous, or capable of evading current vaccines. The Omicron variant demonstrates the ongoing threat to public health and economic stability we face as a result of global vaccine inequity.

It’s the self-interest of countries in the Global North that enabled the pandemic to spiral into what it is today, said Rosemary Flowers-Wanjie, a policy analyst at the consultancy firm Development Reimagined. By sticking to a “me-first” approach, rich nations disregarded an essential characteristic of the virus — it does not respect borders. As long as it exists anywhere in the world, COVID-19 will continue to be a threat to the international community.

“Global North countries should be participating in the distribution of vaccines in an equitable way not only because that’s a good thing to do, but because it actually benefits them in the long run,” Flowers-Wanjie told Global Citizen. “If we had actually done it from the beginning in an equitable way, we would not be in this position now where we are seeing, every few months, every season, a new variant that concerns us.”

Read the full article about COVID vaccine equity by Kristine Liao at Global Citizen.