‘Vaccine Apartheid’ Risks Rising Global Shortages in 2022

As the omicron COVID-19 variant spreads across the world, countries remain divided by their abilities to counter it. Some medical experts and political leaders are comparing the inequity in access to the vaccine to apartheid, the system of institutionalized racial segregation in South Africa continuing through the latter half of the 20th century. The term “vaccine apartheid” is increasingly being used to describe the divide between the world’s richest and poorest countries in vaccine access.

As 2022 opens with these inequities, public health experts are warning that a worldwide vaccine shortfall looms for the first quarter. Those shortages could reach an estimated 3 billion doses, said Tania Cernuschi, the technical lead for global vaccine strategy for the World Health Organization. In an interview with Financial Times, Cernuschi said the disproportionately high vaccine use in wealthy countries may lead to scarcities elsewhere in the world.

“There is a scenario where very aggressive consumption of doses by high-coverage countries to conduct pediatric vaccination and provide booster doses to all citizens?… could lead to a constrained supply situation for the first half of 2022,” Cernuschi warned.

[MORE: Vaccine Hesitancy a Major Roadblock to Distribution in Africa]

Speaking at a recent online forum hosted by Foreign Policy Magazine on global vaccination inequities, Fatima Hassan, founder and director of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, used examples of vaccine hoarding to draw a personal comparison between racial and vaccine segregation.

“We talk about apartheid … I grew up in apartheid, so I know what it feels like to be a second-class citizen,” Hassan said. “The bottom line is we were last in line (for vaccine access), and we were last in line because of a really facetious form of hoarding.”

The identification of vaccine hoarding as a key issue in health care inequity was shared by others on the panel discussion held in December. After the omicron variant was identified by researchers in South Africa, countries around the world quickly imposed restrictions on non-citizens visiting from South Africa and neighboring countries. Dr. Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, called those travel restrictions an “apartheid travel ban,” and an extension of the continuing prejudice.

“For me and for South Africans, this is really a reaction that is closely linked to the selfishness we have witnessed with the hoarding of vaccines, the lack of support to low- and middle-income developing countries worldwide,” Pandor said.

“It just further illustrated the prejudice that exists as our leaders, particularly the global rich countries, respond to this terrible pandemic,” she continued.

Examples that panelists cited of vaccine hoarding, or what Hassan called the “global hoarding of knowledge,” include pharmaceutical companies monopolizing certain mRNA technology, and richer countries distributing booster shots before other countries could vaccinate their most vulnerable. These multilateral actions are being criticized for stifling international efforts such as COVAX, the global initiative led by the WHO, the GAVI vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) that promotes equitable access to vaccines.

Thomas B. Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), highlighted successes in vaccine supply production, saying the problem lies in vaccine distribution.

“Pre-COVID, the global vaccine capacity manufacturing was 5 billion. This year — just for COVID vaccines — we have more than 11 billion developed. This is a daunting number, and it wouldn’t be possible without unprecedented partnerships, collaboration, voluntary licensing and technology transfer,” Cueni said.

“The problem is no longer supply constraints,” he said. “The vaccines are there, it’s about vaccination.”

An October study by IFPMA reported 9.3 billion COVID vaccine doses at the time, and predicted vaccine manufacturing output would reach 12 billion by the end of 2021. However, research gathered by Bloomberg reported that the highest income countries are being vaccinated 10 times faster than the lowest. The data shows that while the least wealthy 52 places have 20.5% of the world’s population, they have received 5.8% of vaccinations.

Regardless of whether or not experts agree on the cause or solution to the problem, many are warning that glaring global inequity leaves the world unprepared for new variants, or future pandemics.

More from U.S. News

Vaccine Hesitancy Is Major Roadblock to Distribution in Africa

COVID-19 Vaccination Rates by Country

Countries With the Best Public Health Care Systems

?Vaccine Apartheid? Risks Rising Global Shortages in 2022 originally appeared on usnews.com

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up