College perspective on the global vaccine crisis

Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it - Frances Wright

Frances Wright, a revolutionary Scottish born thinker, lecturer, writer and feminist, linked equality to liberty. Indeed, in her time as it is now, without equality it is difficult to be truly free.

It is the College’s view that this principle can also be applied to the global COVID-19 vaccine crisis. According to Our World in Data, 43.1% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 5.92 billion doses have been administered globally, and 30.04 million are now administered each day. Yet only 1.9% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. In Ethiopia, a low income country, only 0.46% of people have been fully vaccinated compared with 65% of people in the UK.

With many low income countries struggling to access enough vaccine to fully – or even partially - vaccinate their respective adult populations, we run the risk of coronavirus and its devastating impact continuing unabated. We know, all too well, the harm caused by new variants of coronavirus – most recently, the Delta variant. Vaccination offers a level protection from the Delta variant of course, but the longer that the global population remains largely unvaccinated, the greater the potential for new and more dangerous variants.

There is hope through vaccination programmes like COVAX, which has brought together governments, global health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, private sector, civil society and philanthropy, with the aim of providing innovative, global and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

However, as of 11 June 2021, G7 countries had purchased over a third of the world's vaccine supply, despite making up only 13% of the global population. While vaccine “donations” by governments are welcome, it is the College’s view that the G7 countries must do more to ensure that vital vaccine supplies are getting to low income countries.

The only way we can live as freely as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic is if the global population is double vaccinated – and even then, our lives will continue to be somewhat restricted. That is the goal; although we are yet some way off.

Professor Andrew Elder, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

There is a moral imperative to ensure that no dose of vaccine goes unused. It is clear that the UK has stocks of vaccine in excess of what is needed to meet all recommended indications for use in its own population, now and in the immediate future. This is also the case in several other western countries.

On the other hand, many other countries have huge shortfalls in vaccine supply. The pandemic is global and we will extend its impact if we do not work together to increase vaccination rates everywhere that we can. We therefore support all calls to ensure that countries with stores in excess of their need distribute these before they become unusable.