“Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss.”
Proverbs 22:16 NRSV
In the first few months of 2021, the battle against COVID-19 turned a corner: there are now several vaccines being produced and distributed around the world. Sure, there have been some delays—pharmaceutical companies haven’t been able to produce at the rate that people and governments had hoped—but progress is being made and people are starting to get their jabs.
But not everyone…there are lots of countries which haven’t yet received vaccines and won’t be vaccinating the majority of their population for quite some time.
According to ourworldindata.org, the top 10 countries in terms of COVID-19 vaccination per capita at the time of writing are Israel, United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, United Kingdom, Bahrain, United States, Serbia, Malta, Iceland, and Denmark. With a few exceptions, these are some of the most prosperous countries in the world—and even these exceptions still have decent GDPs (gross domestic product). In contrast, not a single dose has yet to make its way to Africa. And, although Israel is at the top of the list (per capita), hardly any doses have been made their way to Palestine.
This “vaccine inequality” is not a surprise. Every country around the world knew it was going to happen. The World Health Organization (WHO) even planned for it, by establishing (along with other partners) a program called COVAX to end the acute phase of the pandemic. COVAX will provide doses for at least 20% of each country’s population—as the WHO rightly says, “With a fast-moving pandemic, no one is safe, unless everyone is safe.”
So, what about the other 80% that won’t get vaccines through COVAX? Many of the countries who need COVAX can’t afford to vaccinate even the tiniest fraction of that 80%. Is COVAX not going far enough? Hard to say—the strategy needed to address the acute phase (supplying doses to vaccinate the first 20%) is probably different from the strategy needed to vaccinate the remaining 80%.
Regardless, even if COVAX provided doses for 50% of each country’s population, it still wouldn’t be enough. At some point, the world’s most prosperous countries need to step up and help.
According to the Government of Canada, it has secured up to 400 million doses have been secured—our multi-vaccine strategy has been very effective, to the point of significant excess. Assuming every person in Canada receives 2 doses, that leaves roughly 330 million doses that can be shared with the rest of the world. But, as we all know (and have been hearing), Canada likely won’t be sharing any of those surplus doses until all the Canadians that want a vaccine have received one—the rest of the world will need to wait for our leftovers.
So, what to do about it? Well, you could let your rage get the better of you: rip your copy of Anglican Life into shreds, then go do the same to your phone book. Or, as an alternative, you could send an email to your member of parliament to let them know your thoughts.
However, I think it equally important that we all recognize that COVID-19 vaccine inequality is merely a symptom, not the disease. The real problem is that we live in a largely unjust society—until we do a better job of treating others as we would like to be treated, acute instances of inequality will continue to arise. Now, that’s not to say that we should stop treating the symptoms of our unjust society—programs like COVAX will keep developing countries from being devastated by COVID-19 (much like supplemental oxygen might keep a COVID-19 patient from dying). But the world must also come together to find large-scale solutions to social injustice.
When faced with the challenge, the world united to develop COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year. We can achieve great things when we really put our minds to something.
For more information and resources on social justice, check out: