COVAX cock-up and rich countries’ selfishness hampered a global attack on COVID-July 24, 2021

Governments in many countries are coming under criticism over a range of COVID-related policies.

When it comes to vaccinations, let’s get something clear: developing countries have been dependent on a global programme co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) for fair distribution of COVID-19 to vaccines, with a target of delivering 2 billion doses by the end of the year. So far, only 90 million doses have been distributed; up to late-July, that’s about 4 1/2 percent of the target. Let’s be generous and say that represents an annual rate of about 7 3/4 percent. That is a shocking failure!

Countries have tried their best to go past COVAX and source vaccines from other suppliers or through gifts, but the industrial countries have so cornered the market that it’s near impossible for countries of any size to succeed. (One risk with that is some vaccines, eg SINOVAX from China, is not being accepted in Europe and North America.)

If your population is less that 500,000, things can look rosy easily with a nice gift or two from ‘kind’ industrial countries. If your populaiton is about 10-100,000, you could have your needs met with one shipment. With a small geographical space to cover, it wouldn’t tax most such countries to get well over 50 percent of their populations the 2 doses most of the vaccines need to give full coverage. Otherwise, you’re wishing and hoping.

It’s nice of the USA and the UK to promise to release some of their excess supplies, but with no timelines, what real good is that beyond the news headlines?

Jamaica and some other Caribbean countries are living this near-nightmare that has resulted in barely 10+ percent of their populations fully vaccinated; some of the world’s poorest countries have vaccinated less than 1% of their populations. We can but hope things will change, but it’s really not easy for us to control.

GAVI, the global alliance working with the WHO is revamping itself and this will mean covering fewer countries and raising costs for participants. Most countries cannot be like the richer/industrial countries and buy directly from manufacturers. In any event, they would lose on on simple buying power. Rich countries’ self-interest may well be their own demise as the largely-unvaccinated world provides incubator conditions for new (and harder to deal with) variants.

We haven’t even had chance to deal with any real logistical problems of storing vaccines and managing them (at low tempatures) because so few doses have been available in many poor countries. But, let’s hope that we can soon look at problems like that.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)