The rapid global spread of the COVID-19 has demonstrated that no matter how successful America is at fighting this pandemic here at home, we will never stop this threat unless we’re also fighting it around the world. In this series of issue briefs, the USGLC takes an in depth look at the global response and COVID-19’s impacts on vulnerable populations, global development and diplomacy, and the future of U.S. global leadership. Read more from our series here.

Last updated April 5, 2021

As COVID-19 vaccines are being approved and rolled out across the world, there are stark differences in countries receiving vaccines and launching vaccination campaigns that have the potential to undermine the effort to control the pandemic as well as opportunities for economic recovery. As a report co-authored by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky emphasized, “the benefits of any COVID-19 vaccine…will depend at least as much on how swiftly and broadly it is implemented and the epidemiological environment into which it is introduced as it will on the vaccine’s physiological properties.” COVID-19 has also disrupted routine immunizations around the world, reversing progress made on preventable diseases like measles and tuberculosis.

COVAX, the international effort to address the global equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, aims to secure 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 and to allocate doses to all participating countries at the same rate, proportional to their population size. Countries will receive enough doses to vaccinate up to 20% of their population and then will wait until all countries in the financing group have been offered this amount before receiving additional doses.

  • The United States entered COVAX in late January, joining more than 180 countries in the international effort.
  • Thus far, COVAX has shipped over 32 million COVID-19 vaccines to 70 participating countries.
  • The United States approved $4 billion for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to ensure lower-income economies have equitable and prompt access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.
  • While COVAX had expected 71% of its first wave of distribution to consist of doses produced at India’s Serum Institute, the manufacturing powerhouse recently redirected nearly its entire supply domestically to address a brutal wave of cases. African CDC Director John Nkengasong illustrated the severity of the situation, saying that, if this is anything more than a temporary delay, “that would be catastrophic.”

Economic Impact. Several reports have found that a global equitable vaccine solution would have significant economic benefits for the United States and that leaving low- and lower-middle income countries without access to a vaccine amid the pandemic would cause significant economic damage to both them and advanced economies. Rand reports that “for every $1 spent, high-income countries would get back about $4.8.”

  • Eurasia Group found “The U.S. would be likely to gain more than any other country according to our economic analysis, with $78.8 billion in economic benefits at risk in 2020-21 and $207.1 billion at risk from 2020-25.”

A COVID-19 vaccine will also not be successful if people do not trust the vaccine and subsequently do not get vaccinated. Vaccination intent is on the rise with a survey of 13,500 people across Europe, Asia, and Australia finding that in November 2020 only 40% of respondents said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine while, in January 2021, more than 50% of respondents agreed they would get a vaccine if it was available that week.

Impact of COVID-19 on Routine Immunizations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also created new barriers to routine immunizations, putting millions of people around the world at risk of contracting preventable diseases. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus painted a grim picture: “Disruption to immunization programs from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine preventable diseases like measles.”

Written by Jessica Ritchie

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