THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC has claimed more than 3 million lives around the world and left tens of millions more with insidious aftereffects. It is reversing decades of progress in reducing child mortality, health inequity, poverty, gender inequality, illiteracy, and hunger. Immunization against COVID-19 is the single most powerful weapon we have to end the pandemic and reclaim lost ground.
More than a dozen safe, effective vaccines are now in use worldwide. The Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University estimates global production capacity to be 12 billion doses for 2021. This is sufficient to immunize 70 percent of the world’s population and achieve “herd immunity”—the level of protection sufficient to stop community spread and eliminate surges. Through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program, more than 190 countries made a joint commitment to secure enough vaccines by the end of 2021 to immunize 20 percent of the population in lower-income countries.
Despite these remarkable successes, the world is headed toward two parallel realities: By late 2021 or early 2022 most high-income countries will have achieved herd immunity and made significant progress toward a new normal. In contrast, lower-income countries are not yet on track to even reach the 20 percent vaccination target. Despite $400 million in public and private pledges in April, COVAX is short more than $22 billion for this year’s budget. Rich countries have made purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers that far outweigh the needs of their own populations. Based on the current trajectory, it will take several years to immunize enough people in lower-income countries to stop the pandemic.