Editorial: A call for fairer distribution of vaccines

Although 62% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 54% have completed the primary vaccine series, most of those vaccines have gone to wealthy countries. An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) argues that local or regional vaccine production is necessary to even the playing field for low-income countries.

Co-authors of the February 23, 2022 editorial included two researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: David Hunter, Vincent L. Gregory Professor of Cancer Prevention, Emeritus, and Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases and NEJM editor-in-chief.

The authors noted that several wealthy countries have exceeded 90% vaccine coverage, while only about 11% of all people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. In addition, roughly three billion people worldwide have not received a single dose.

Countries with the capacity to manufacture vaccines have prioritized local supply, the authors explained, and wealthier countries purchased the vaccines. “We should not be surprised by vaccine nationalism; company CEOs and boards have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize their stock price, and politicians are elected to prefer the interests of their voters over populations in other nations,” the authors explained.

But they argued that vaccines, and the ability to manufacture them, “must not be a sequestered asset that maximizes the return to pharmaceutical company executives and shareholders or increases the electability of politicians. They must be a global public good.” They called for a sustained effort to develop and increase regional vaccine-production capacity to offset “the haphazard way in which vaccines are currently distributed.”

Read the NEJM editorial: Addressing Vaccine Inequity—Covid-19 Vaccines as a Global Public Good