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COVID-19 vaccine inequality

January, 2022

By the time you read this article, you may well be on holidays somewhere, or at home. Either way, you will most likely be experiencing more freedoms than you have for most of the last two years. This is largely due to the rapid development and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in Australia.

Many poorer countries around the world though have not been so fortunate. In the second half of 2021, there were several reports about the extremely limited access to vaccines. While we in the rich world start to return to a semblance of normality, the poor world still languishes, the forgotten ones in what is an ongoing pandemic for them.

According to the World Health Organization, as of October 2021, 63 percent of people in high income countries had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, only 4.5 percent of people in low-income countries had received one dose. This is a major disparity and injustice.

Early in the pandemic, leaders from nations across the world formed the COVAX partnership to provide a mechanism for the equitable distribution of vaccines. In September, the COVAX alliance explained why this wasn’t working: “In the critical months during which COVAX was created, signed on participants, pooled demand, and raised enough money to make advance purchases of vaccines, much of the early global supply had already been bought by wealthy nations.”

Wealthy nations, including Australia, have purchased more vaccine supply than they need. They have been able to do this because they have made contracts with pharmaceutical companies to obtain fast access to vaccines. Australia, for example, has locked in supplies that could vaccinate our population more than three times over.

While this goes on, global poverty is increasing at alarming rates. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 160 million people faced hunger in 2020 compared to the previous year.

The explanations for this are varied. One reason is a rise in global food prices since the pandemic started. The rise in food prices has also triggered job losses, further affecting people’s ability to buy nutritious food. This then increases malnutrition, again more prevalent in countries that can least afford access to nutrition services.

The most vulnerable people in any poverty situation are children. According to the Australian National University, pandemic-related school closures meant that 370 million children have missed out on in-school meals during the pandemic. For many children, a school meal was their most reliable source of nutritious food.

Anglican Overseas Aid’s partners around the world continue to respond to the global pandemic. We ask that you continue to be in prayer for our partners and the communities they work with across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific.

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