Vaccinating the World

March 28, 2022 By Coby Jones

36 hours. That’s all it takes for a virus like COVID-19 to spread worldwide, threatening America’s health, economic stability, and national security. Since the pandemic upended the world two years ago, the United States has joined a global effort to combat this deadly virus, advancing one of the best tools the world has in combating COVID-19: vaccines.

Yet global vaccination has been difficult to achieve, particularly in low -and -middle income countries (LMICs) where additional resources are needed most. With only 14% of people in LMICs having received at least one dose, global vaccination will require increased investment. Procurement and distribution is expensive, and it’s estimated that more than $17 billion in emergency resources will be required in order to vaccinate 70% of the global population — with 70% being the threshold for herd immunity.

In addition to health, failure to vaccinate the world risks exacerbating COVID-19’s devastating impact worldwide resulting in economic decline, increased hunger, and increased violent conflict.

  • Failure to vaccinate communities in developing countries could cost $5.3 trillion dollars in global GDP over the next five years.
  • A total of 45 million people are on the brink of famine across 43 countries. This number has risen from 42 million earlier in the year and 27 million in 2019.
  • Political violence increased by 12% in 2021 and was particularly driven by significant increases in fatalities in Afghanistan, amid the Taliban takeover; in post-coup Myanmar; and in Ethiopia, amid the ongoing Tigray war.

The good news is that investment in global vaccination efforts works. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and partnerships like COVAX are diligently working to improve the health systems, including distributing vaccines, training healthcare staff, combatting vaccine disinformation campaigns, and purchasing equipment to create sustainable vaccination supply chains.

The results are impressive:

  • In Cameroon, USAID, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) supported the government’s national vaccination campaign by assessing key drivers of vaccine hesitancy and acceptance. Within the first five days of the campaign, 274,000 Cameroonians received their first dose of the vaccine, and 70,000 received their second dose.
  • In Uganda, the U.S. Government donated 8 million vaccine doses, bringing the country’s vaccination coverage up from 14% to 47%, which was achieved in under six months.
  • In Cote d’Ivoire, vaccination campaigns, paired with intensive efforts to drive demand and increase access, helped boost first dose vaccinations from 22% to 36% percent in the end of 2021.
  • In Bangladesh, investment was made in four new ultra-cold freezer trucks to safely transport millions of COVID-19 vaccines across the country.
  • In Mali, more than 800 healthcare workers were trained throughout five regions through partnerships with the CDC, local organizations, and the Ministry of Health.

The investments in LMIC vaccination to date have produced encouraging results. Further, these investments have gone towards building up sustainable infrastructure and supply chains for continued vaccination, not only against COVID-19, but also AIDS, Malaria, TB, polio, and more, following the conclusion of U.S. investment.

Of course, the U.S. government isn’t the only player that can contribute to vaccinating the world. The U.S. business community and NGOs have all stepped up to combat COVID-19. Private companies like FedEx have made more than 7,000 humanitarian aid shipments globally of food aid, medical equipment, and blood donations. Non-governmental organizations like CARE International have reallocated over $37 million of their budget to COVID-19 response. Investment from business and charities during the pandemic has helped to stem the spread of this virus both in the United States and around the world.

The fight against COVID-19 and its wider impacts isn’t over yet. With a multitude of growing global threats that impact our health, economic, and security interests, Congress has the opportunity to provide additional global pandemic response resources and strengthen American’s leadership in vaccine diplomacy. The United States’ greatest tool in staving off further virus mutations and to save lives now is by helping vaccinate the world.