The Green Shoots of COVID Solidarity
Rich-country governments must now donate COVID-19 vaccines immediately to vulnerable countries, contribute more to international initiatives to ensure a genuinely global rollout, and work with pharmaceutical firms to deliver more transparent, non-exclusive licensing deals. Only this level of solidarity can restore global growth.
OXFORD – In a recent letter to her G20 colleagues, US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen argued that a truly global COVID-19 vaccination program “is the strongest stimulus we can provide to the global economy.” With rich countries vaccinating their populations while low-income countries have yet to receive even paid-for vaccine doses, the world seems a long way from that goal. But the first shoots of solidarity are beginning to appear, and leaders must strengthen cooperation to nurture them.
Such an approach is essential, because reopening the global economy requires containing the coronavirus everywhere. One recent study estimates that, even if advanced economies reach optimal vaccination levels by mid-2021, they could nonetheless suffer economic losses of up to $4.5 trillion this year if developing countries’ vaccine rollouts continue to lag far behind. Open economies such as European Union member states, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States would be most at risk, and output losses in sectors such as construction, textiles, retail, and automobiles could exceed 5%.
Uncoordinated vaccine distribution also poses grave health risks. Leaving poorer and needier countries out of the supply chain has resulted in the deaths of numerous desperately needed African frontline nurses and health workers. When Guinea declared an Ebola outbreak in February, the world relied on the country’s own health-care workers to roll out a containment and vaccination campaign. Without such workers, the world is more vulnerable to future pandemics: in 2014, for example, a single case of Ebola in the US caused nationwide panic when it spread to the nurses treating the patient.