krueger34_Jessica RinaldiThe Boston Globe via Getty Images_covid vaccine Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Can Poor Countries Avoid a Vaccine Bidding War?

For all of the good news about the arrival of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the hard truth for the coming year is that global demand will outpace supply. Without a multilateral agreement to allocate doses globally, the road to recovery will be much longer than it otherwise could have been.

WASHINGTON, DC – The world has received the best possible gift for the coming year. The development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in such a short time is something close to a medical miracle and portends an end to the crisis that dominated 2020.

But the pace at which we will end the pandemic depends on three factors. The first is the extent of continued compliance with recommended safety measures such as mask wearing, social distancing, crowd avoidance, and hand washing. The second factor is our ability to overcome the many logistical and distributional challenges of administering vaccines globally. And the third is access to vaccines for poorer countries. The pandemic will not be over until the coronavirus has been vanquished everywhere.

Some efforts are already underway to achieve this. For example, COVAX, a coalition of 172 countries (not including the United States), is seeking “to guarantee rapid, fair, and equitable access” to vaccines “for people in all countries.” Co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organization, it has already made arrangements with nine pharmaceutical developers to procure vaccines once they have been approved. So far, the European Union and individual EU member states have contributed the most to the effort – €850 million ($1 billion) to date – followed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other major donors.