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Voices / Letters from readers

No one is safe from Covid until low-income countries have equal access to vaccine

We have lost millions of lives around the world to the Coronavirus and its variants. To end this pandemic, a large share of the world needs to be immunized with a vaccine.

Vaccine inequity is everywhere. G7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union — have purchased more than one third of the world’s vaccine supply, despite making up only 10 percent of the global population.

In the United States, inoculations are thrown out because they were unused, and a booster shot will be available for those who are vaccinated. Canada has more than 10 doses for every resident, and Great Britain more than eight as of July, whereas the rate in India is 0.08. Haiti received its first doses in July.

WHO and UNICEF established COVAX, a plan to bring doses to low- and middle-income countries. The plan has goals to vaccinate health care and social care workers, then people over 65 and those who are high risk, and then 20 percent of the population. WHO says that 70 percent would be a healthy goal.

The U.S., European Union, Japan, and Great Britain have all contributed to COVAX. Some countries have dipped into this supply themselves. Most doses are going to low-income countries, but some are being sent to those that are wealthier.

No one is safe until the low-income countries have widespread vaccinations. This contagious disease cannot be contained within national boundaries.

Previous initiatives by WHO and UNICEF to eradicate HIV/AIDS, smallpox, and polio have demonstrated the necessity of global interdependence in eradicating diseases. We need such an effort now.

The cost of vaccines is prohibitive for low-income countries; richer countries need to send vaccine doses. Also, low-income countries need the technology to produce their own vaccines.

There is stiff resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and some high-income nations from opening the intellectual property rights. These companies have been largely supported by taxpayers’ money. Opening Intellectual property rights would mean many pharmaceutical companies in low-income countries will have the technology to produce the vaccine locally, thereby reducing the costs.

At a time when the world should come together as one humanity, it is painful to see inequity, injustice, and racism in the availability of vaccines. The United States should believe in social justice, equity, and that everyone’s life should be protected, including those who can’t afford to pay for the vaccine.

Pharmaceutical companies and wealthy nations that are predominantly white should break national and racial boundaries and help low-income nations — populated predominantly by people of color — to be vaccinated and save us the scourge of the pandemic.

Claire B. Halverson

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Originally published in The Commons issue #629 (Wednesday, September 8, 2021). This story appeared on page C3.

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