The commitment made by the G7, a coalition of the world’s seven wealthiest democracies, to donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccines to low-income countries over the next one year is a laudable move, though it falls short of the global requirement. The situation is particularly grim because of the rapidly spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus against which the existing vaccines are less effective. The donation does not replace a global vaccination plan. The new doses, promised by G7, will be added to the 2 billion doses the Covax partnership—an international coalition to distribute vaccines to low-income countries—plans to secure by the end of 2021. These doses are meant to be distributed by the end of 2023. The bulk of the donation will come from the United States, which alone has pledged 500 million doses, followed by the United Kingdom, which is committed to 100 million. Most of the vaccines will be shared through Covax, while some will be distributed according to bilateral agreements through which donating countries essentially retain the power to leverage vaccines as a tool of diplomacy. Currently, about 21% of the global population has received at least one vaccine dose. But the distribution of the doses is wildly uneven with rich countries being well on their way to provide full immunity to all the adults within the next few months while less than 1% of those living in poor countries have received any doses.
Even if a billion doses were distributed by the end of the year, that would cover only about a fourth of the population still waiting for a vaccine in poor countries—and that too, would give them only one dose. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the world would need 11 billion doses, equitably distributed among all countries, to reach 70% of vaccine coverage, and herd immunity. Currently, Covax has shipped less than 90 million doses to 130 countries. Barring rich countries and China, the rest of the world still needs at least 6 billion doses to reach 70% immunity. The poor countries, which account for 80% of the global population, would remain at risk of deadly Covid-19 waves, and the whole world will be vulnerable to new aggressive variants in the absence of funding for speedier distribution, patent waivers and a non-profit model extended to all western vaccine makers. One reason for this imbalance is that wealthier countries have been able to place substantial advance orders with the vaccine makers, most of them are based in richer countries. Unless manufacturing and supply can be distributed more evenly, researchers forecast that it will be at least another two years before a significant proportion of people in the lowest-income countries are vaccinated.