According to the latest Global Economic Prospects Report, by the end of 2022, the world will be, at best, half-recovered. Perhaps the single most important reason for the unequal recovery is unequal access to COVID-19 vaccines. In low-income countries, fewer than 10 percent of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine. This compares with about 80 percent in high-income countries. Vaccination rates remain uneven across middle-income economies, where 5 billion people live. The emergence of the omicron variant underscores the risk of unvaccinated people to everyone.

A simple way to think about the problem of vaccine access is to break it down into three parts: production, trade, and health care delivery. This blog discusses the first and the second, though the weakest link in many countries is often the third.

Global production of vaccines reached 12 billion doses at the end of 2021, insufficient to cover a global population of 7.9 billion (considering boosters). Distribution has been unequal. For instance, of the 4 billion doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine planned for 2021, high-income countries purchased nearly 70 percent of doses. Boosting COVID-19 vaccine production is a clear priority, but it faces hard constraints over the short term. The sophisticated technological capacity to produce the vaccines and their novel and essential inputs, such as mRNA technology, is currently limited to less than 20 countries. The combination of short-term production constraints and the practice by high-income and some middle-income countries to make advance vaccine purchases results in a smaller piece of the pie being available for developing countries.

International trade is essential to producing and distributing these vaccines through complex cross-border supply chains. But nationalistic trade policies, differences in regulatory frameworks between countries, and complex and slow procedures for moving key inputs across borders have impeded trade. This has negatively affected vaccine production and distribution.

The problem of vaccine inequity is tough to fix. But three types of measures can take a bite out of it.

  1. Policies to support production.
  2. Policies to support trade.
  3. Policies to support equity.

Read the full article about global vaccine equity by Indermit Gill and Michele Ruta at Brookings.