April 7, 2021, marks “World Health Day,” the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) 73 years ago, in 1948. This year’s theme, “Building a fairer, healthier world,” especially resonates in the context of COVID-19, which has highlighted global inequality in outcomes, access to care and now, in access to vaccinations. The pandemic’s impact has been the most pronounced in under-resourced countries with weak health infrastructure systems. In those countries, containment measures will further affect businesses and households while their populations are less likely to have access to available COVID-19 vaccines.
The ongoing worldwide scramble to secure COVID-19 vaccine doses has illuminated disparities in global access to health care and medications, with developing countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa far behind wealthier nations in inoculating their populations. As a result, while some governments are already making vaccine doses available to their populations, many health care workers in nations such as Zambia are unvaccinated and risk their lives daily in the fight against the pandemic.
What are the underlying factors that need to be addressed to achieve COVID-19 vaccine equity and distribution parity across the globe? The following list provides some answers:
- Uneven supply: COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), a program backed by the WHO (and other groups), aims to deploy shots equitably to every corner of the globe. However, it is unable to cover the cost for some developing countries, where there is not enough supply to protect even the most essential of the population. Nowhere is the vaccine supply shortage more acute than in sub-Saharan Africa, which has administered fewer COVID-19 shots per capita than any other region and are solely dependent on COVAX immunizations. In these countries, where supply is particularly scarce, health care workers and others responsible for caring for COVID-19 patients must be adequately equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) and prioritized to receive a vaccine to ensure the health and safety of both health care workers and their patients.
- Variability in access by race and socioeconomic status: Although the U.K. has implemented a successful mass vaccination strategy, experts suggest it could unravel unless vaccine access inequalities between higher and lower income communities are addressed. A March 2021 study found much lower vaccination rates in under-resourced areas in south London. Also, public health analysts report that vaccine uptake in diverse communities, which include immigrants, Black and Asian populations, are most affected by barriers to vaccine access as well as misinformation. To help address the variability in vaccine distribution in communities, it is important to have strategies, such as mobile vaccine units, in place to bring vaccines closer to those who are most in need.
- Health care workforce shortages: There may not be enough vaccinators to meet the goal of inoculating one-fifth of the world’s population, even as vaccine supply increases. Prior to the pandemic, there was already a significant shortage of health care workers in many lower- income countries. Health care worker strikes taking place in over 80 countries have only made matters worse. The WHO and other global health organizations recommend that community health workers be paid, trained, supervised and equipped as members of the health care workforce to bridge these personnel gaps.
What Employers Can Do
Full implementation of an equitable vaccine distribution strategy will require support from a variety of stakeholders to provide cross-sector solutions, including corporations. The business community needs to forge crucial partnerships with governments to learn of specific assistance they can lend. For example, utilizing a corporate campus, on-site or near site clinic, to administer shots. Additionally, government and corporate partnerships should join forces on a global scale to offer consistent, evidence-based messaging about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines across all potential communication channels. 3
“No one is safe from Covid-19 until everyone is safe. By helping to build confidence and trust within communities, companies and partner organizations raise awareness about the importance and effectiveness of vaccines to reduce individuals’ risk of serious illness, save lives, and contribute to eventually ending the pandemic,” according to Chris Skopec, Executive Vice President of Project HOPE, the international humanitarian and relief organization.3
The global community is only as strong as our weakest link with respect to health care security, access and equity. We can, and must, invest in and promote overall health and vaccine equity worldwide to hasten the day we can finally put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror and ensure that the global community finally reach herd immunity.
- 1 | https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/14/uk-covid-vaccine-strategy-will-unravel-unless-inequalities-addressed-say-experts
- 2 | https://www.thinkglobalhealth.org/article/without-community-health-workers-global-covid-19-response-could-fail
- 3 | https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/2021/01/21/how-companies-can-partner-with-governments-to-distribute-covid-vaccine-efficiently-and-effectively/?sh=596f44308fd3