Richer countries have most available vaccine doses as the global recovery becomes K-shaped

  • The wealthiest countries are vaccinating 25 times faster than the poorest countries, per Bloomberg.
  • Wealthier countries were snapping up doses in November, creating a vaccine shortage.
  • Poorer countries may not have enough vaccine supply until 2024, a Duke University analysis found.
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The vaccine race has intensified wealth inequality across the globe.

Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker found that the world’s wealthiest countries are vaccinating at 25 times the rate of the poorest countries. The database has thus far tracked more than 726 million doses administered in 154 countries. 

So far, per the tracker, about 5% of the global population is able to get fully vaccinated. But the vaccines have been unevenly distributed, with 40% going to 27 wealthy countries that comprise 11% of the global population and 1.6% going to the countries comprising the poorest 11%.

Consider Pakistan. It has 2.7% of the world’s population, but has only received 0.1% of the vaccines. Meanwhile, the US, which accounts for 4.3% of the world’s population, has nearly a quarter of the world’s vaccines.

As of Thursday, the US has vaccinated nearly 20% of its population. It’s set to have enough vaccines for 75% of Americans by the end of June, per Bloomberg.

The pandemic has widened many wealth gaps

Patchy vaccine distribution is just the latest way the pandemic is exacerbating wealth inequality. In the US, the divide between the rich and the poor deepened as the economy’s recovery turned K-shaped, with higher-earning Americans recovering and lower-income Americans continuing to struggle.

From nabbing coronavirus tests when there was a shortage during the first stages of the pandemic to taking advantage of loopholes to get vaccinated early, the system has been working for the wealthy since the pandemic began.

The same dynamic has manifested on a global scale. While the global economy is expected to grow by 6% in 2021, according to IMF’s World Economic Outlook, that growth is projected to be uneven. Lower-income countries are expected to see an average annual loss of 5.7% per capita GDP from 2020 to 2024, but advanced economies will see a smaller loss of 2.3% in the same time frame.

“Recoveries are diverging dangerously across and within countries,” wrote Gita Gopinath, chief economist for the IMF.

Wealthier countries were snapping up “billions of doses” as early as November, reported The Washington Post’s Emily Rauhala, creating a supply shortage for poorer countries that could last until 2024.

She cited an analysis from researchers at Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center that suggested these priority-supply deals between countries and drug manufacturers were undermining the World Health Organization’s  initiative to equitably distribute vaccines.

The Biden administration committed $4 billion in February to Covax, a global vaccine alliance dedicated to ensuring equitable vaccine distribution, to help bolster the worldwide vaccine effort. More than 190 countries are participating.

“It’s unconscionable,” Zain Rizvi, an expert on access to medicine at Public Citizen, told Rauhala in a follow-up story. “Many countries will be lucky if by the end of the year they are close to where the US is now.”

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