Image: © ezp_rs via Twenty20

Rich countries are buying up all the coronavirus vaccines

13 percent of human beings currently have access to 51 percent of the future Covid vaccine supply.

Although there isn’t yet an official Covid-19 vaccine, enough trials have shown promise that some governments have already agreed to buy up batches of the final product if it’s proven to be effective. It’s easy to see the logic behind this choice. Mass vaccination against coronavirus is seen as the only way to get everything back to normal quickly enough to stop all the bad stuff Covid-19 is doing to people’s lives and livelihoods.

But this approach has been criticised because (1) most of these buyers are from rich countries and (2) they’re hogging more than their fair share. The UK, USA and other well-off nations that together contain 13 percent of the world’s population now own over half of the future vaccine supply. The UK government has bought enough stock to give every one of its citizens five doses whereas at present Bangladesh could only vaccinate one in every nine of its people.

There are several ways that this sort of ‘vaccine nationalism’ could impact economies around the world. If the biggest and richest economies are mostly protected, global GDP might rebound, but the countries that don’t have enough vaccines are likely to see more economic disruption. Either more people will get sick, which means fewer people working and more pressure being put on the healthcare system, or the country will have to have more lockdowns and social distancing measures, which translate into business closures and job losses.

That will strike a lot of people as particularly unfair because poorer countries have less resources to put into things like building hospitals or protecting incomes than richer ones. One set of researchers reckon that vaccine nationalism will lead to twice as many Covid-19 deaths than if vaccines were shared around more equally.

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