By Rachel V Thomas
New Delhi, Jul 6 (IANS): Equitable distribution of vaccines against Covid-19 worldwide and in-countries is essential to defeating the deadly infectious disease that has triggered one of the greatest health crises, with 184 million cases recorded to date and more than 3.98 million deaths, according to the Rockefeller Foundation, US-based philanthropy focused on health, science and social issues.
While vaccines were developed at an unprecedented speed, their rollout was not equal. Just 3.2 billion people in the world have been vaccinated. Only 1 per cent of people in low-income countries have been given at least one dose, while more than 80 per cent of the doses have gone to people in high-income and upper-middle-income countries. Many countries, in the developing world, lack the jabs to continue with their inoculation programmes.
"Given a limited global production capacity, the only way to achieve global equity in the near term is for countries with access to Covid-19 vaccines to provide vaccines to countries without that access. Preferably this should be through the COVAX facility," Bruce Gellin, Chief of Global Health Policy, The Rockefeller Foundation, told IANS.
The COVAX programme, which is the international vaccine-sharing initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organisations, initially set a target of providing two billion doses worldwide by the end of 2021. However, it has so far delivered only 90 million doses to 131 countries, and it is nowhere near enough to protect populations from the deadly virus, the WHO said.
Of the 80 low-income countries involved in COVAX, "at least half of them do not have sufficient vaccines to be able to sustain their programmes right now", the global health agency said.
Recently, the US committed to donate 75 per cent of the unused Covid-19 vaccines to COVAX and the strong commitment coming from the G7 meetings reinforces the importance of this principle. Last month, the Group of Seven (G7) countries -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US -- pledged to donate one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to poor countries to help vaccinate the world by the end of 2022.
However, despite the donations most people in the poorest countries will need to wait till 2023 before they are vaccinated against COVID-19, 'Nature' quoted researchers from the International Monetary Fund as saying.
"Vaccines don't save lives, vaccinations do, which is why it's critically important not only to focus on vaccine supply but also to ensure there is equitable distribution," Gellin said. He added that it is important to ensure that vaccination programmes are able to reach those at the highest risk of infection and complications, such as health care workers.
"As production increases and as surplus vaccines are donated, ensuring that vaccines become vaccinations to achieve not only global equity, but in-country equity will require the support needed to reach those who will benefit most," Gellin said.
Gellin stressed the need to enhance testing and genomic surveillance along with monitoring vaccine effectiveness to curb Covid-19 from spreading. But, it is also essential to keep a careful eye on the ever-evolving variants to determine if they are evading immunity in the population (whether it's from natural infection or from vaccination).
Various studies and experts have shown that SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19, is here to stay. Besides the virus, the variants it produces are also expected to remain present. The goal should be to limit their spread and reduce the impact that they have on individuals and in communities.
"Boost testing and increase genomic surveillance of the virus samples we collect. This will let us stay on the front foot in fighting this pandemic," Gellin said.
But, "we need not only genomic surveillance but also to continue to monitor vaccine effectiveness against the strains that are circulating", Gellin said.