The Urgent Case for Global Vaccine Equity

Developing a vaccine against COVID-19 is the most pressing challenge – and most impressive achievement – of our time. But vaccines alone are not enough. We must ensure that everyone has access to them. Vaccine equity is especially critical for the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Here in the United States, vaccine rollout has been agonizingly slow. Despite the Biden Administration’s admirable efforts to speed up the vaccine process, the supply is still not getting through to the populations who need it most, including low-income communities, Black and Latino, the elderly, and others. In many states, public health officials acknowledge that vaccines are disproportionately going to wealthier communities, while underserved neighborhoods have been stymied by obstacles including jammed phone lines, confusing websites, lack of transportation and time off from jobs to get appointments.

On the global stage, leaders have turned to Gavi – a public-private health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunizations in poor countries. Gavi is leading COVAX, one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched in April by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission and France in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVAX is the result of an extraordinary and unique global collaboration, with more than two-thirds of the world engaged. It has the largest and most diverse portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines, and represents the best hope of bringing the acute phase of this pandemic to a swift end. Equitable access across the globe – especially when it comes to protecting nurses and other health care workers, as well as those most at-risk – can lessen both the public health and economic impact of COVID-19.

Developing nurse leaders is another key factor to successfully tackle international health crises such as the coronavirus pandemic. In January, I had the privilege of participating in the Nursing Economic$ Podcast Series, joining Michelle Williams, ScD, Dean of Faculty, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and  Donna M. Nickitas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CNE, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief of Nursing Economic$ and Dean and Professor, Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, for a robust conversation about nurses’ central role in global public health. We discussed how collaboration between all disciplines, including nurse leaders, is paramount in battling global health care crises such as COVID-19, as well as addressing the growing worldwide nursing shortage. We also took a deep dive into strategies that can help ensure nurses have the knowledge, skills, and ability to care for people at both the community and international levels.

I invite you to listen to the full podcast, Nursing and Nursing Leadership in Global Public Health, here.

Dr. Williams also joined several co-authors to write about a global health action agenda for the Biden Administration. The article appears in the January 2 issue of The Lancet. Among their recommendations, the authors called for the United States to join with the 189 countries already participating in COVAX to help provide equitable worldwide distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. They recommend that the U.S. contribute $5 billion to fund COVAX advance market commitments, which will galvanize vaccine production and distribution.

I’ll close with the words of WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Speaking to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), he said, “Vaccine equity is not just a moral imperative. Ending this pandemic depends on it. [Many countries] recognize this with their support of the ACT Accelerator. This landmark partnership has laid the groundwork for the equitable distribution and deployment of life-saving tools. Time is short and the stakes could not be higher.”

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