COVID vaccines: Why we must succeed in every country

The COVID-19 pandemic remains far from over. Vaccines are still our best tool to help every country overcome it, and get back on track.

The threat that Russia’s invasion in Ukraine poses to world supplies of food, and energy has been the focus of much of the attention of the international community since February. The conflict, climate change, and conflicts in other parts of the world are all contributing to the crisis. There is also a record number of refugees and an increase in poverty, which is the most severe in decades. Despite these huge global challenges, COVID is a particularly important factor in terms of health, economic, and social impacts, especially for the most vulnerable and poorest countries.

We have the ability to end the pandemic if we stay focused and remain ambitious, thanks to vaccines. The World Bank Group teamed up with the U.S. government, COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership and WHO to organize a symposium on “Scaling Up Vaccine Deployment” at the Spring Meetings.

To discuss how vaccines can be turned into vaccines, we convened global, regional and bilateral agency leaders, as well as a select group from finance and health ministers representing developing countries. We wanted to make it clearer about the urgent needs so that vaccine supplies can quickly reach where they are needed, and that countries have the capacity and resources to ensure that everyone is vaccinated.

We reviewed the findings of a report we prepared for the G20 with close collaboration with our Multilateral Leaders Task Force partners, and the COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership. It stresses that we can work together and bring expertise and funding to assist low- and medium-income countries in delivering vaccines in the near term. We can support long-term efforts to strengthen health systems and build pandemic preparedness by supporting countries that are leading the way. We need a global commitment that is broad-based, to both overcome COVID immediately and build resilience to future health crises.

Despite significant progress in vaccination, including some success stories from developing countries, the gap between rich and poor countries remains unacceptable. Although 11.5 billion COVID vaccines were administered globally, only 12% of low-income people are fully vaccinated compared to 74% of those living in richer countries. 18 countries, mainly in Africa, have not yet vaccinated even 10% of their population. These places have not vaccinated even a third or more of their elderly and health care workers. We can and should do better.

The bright side is that we now have sufficient global COVID vaccine supplies, which removes a constraint that has slowed vaccination efforts over the past year. Vaccines are still highly effective in reducing serious illness, and even though the virus continues to evolve, they have not been able to stop all deaths. To help prevent infections, we have a complete toolkit that includes tests, treatments and personal protective equipment.

It is now crucial to ensure that these tools are available to all countries, and to make sure that governments and communities remain committed to their national vaccination efforts in Africa. A strong signal for the future of vaccine manufacturing in the region will come from showing political leadership and social determination. While health issues remain the greatest concern, the foundation of any country’s economic recovery and social recovery is success in vaccination. Only by giving more vaccines to people can we overcome the pandemic.

I was encouraged by the session at the Spring Meetings that showed me optimism about our ability to build a strong, truly global coalition for vaccines. To be able to help countries vaccine at a level that protects vulnerable people quickly (the elderly, immunocompromised and health workers), it will take a collective effort. This will allow us to reduce the range of risks posed by COVID and put us in a better position to face future pandemics. In close collaboration with governments and other organizations, the World Bank will do everything we can to assist our clients. This effort requires us all to be ambitious and focused.

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