Expanding global access to the COVID vaccine can help everyone

More variants will develop if less wealthy countries are not prioritized for vaccination

Access to the Covid-19 vaccine needs to be expanded in countries less wealthy than Canada. (Flickr/ VCU Capital News Service)

Access to the Covid-19 vaccine needs to be expanded in countries less wealthy than Canada. (Flickr/ VCU Capital News Service)

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were told that this global event would be a “great equalizer.” It would be a historical moment wherein all of humanity was at equal risk of the virus’s ravaging effects on health, the economy, and our social lives. 

It was a rallying point in which we all — regardless of race, nationality, class, or creed — could do our part in a worldwide collective effort to stop the pandemic. It would be a time of swift and decisive actions and would change us into connected global citizens who have been united as one for the welfare of all.

Almost two years later and none of that has exactly panned out, leaving us to the mercy of several variants and a devastating infection and mortality rate. The world now has the Omicron variant to deal with on top of the other variants, like Delta, that continue to strain healthcare systems. Few have it worse off right now than the citizens of developing countries. 

As it stands, there is an obvious disconnect between the vaccination rates of the wealthy Western nations and the developing world. Canada’s vaccination rate alone is 10 times higher than the entirety of the African continent.

It is necessary for anyone who advocates for a decisive and meaningful end to the pandemic to also call for the global vaccination gap to be closed by countries like Canada and the United States and aid developing countries. 

In Africa and India especially, many people have yet to receive their first dose. While many Westerners have been jabbed twice. Such an oversight in global health will guarantee that this COVID-19 nightmare will go on for much longer than anybody wants.

As someone who remembers the H1N1 era, two years has been an exhausting enough ordeal. Going into a third or fourth year would send myself and my generation of peers spiraling off the deep end.

Experts have linked the arrival of the Omicron variant directly to the failure to get developing countries vaccinated through the COVAX program. Locking a large portion of the world out of a vital preventative measure should never have happened.

From the very beginning, access to the COVID-19 vaccine should have been available to everybody equally. There were once plans to waive the proprietary patents that keep vaccines under corporate control, and permit governments to publicly fund and distribute their own vaccines. Even though the vaccines use formulas developed by big pharmaceutical corporations, many of these companies use public subsidies anyway.

So far, the corporations have kept their precious intellectual property rights and profits, despite the indefensible and preventable suffering going on all around them. Pharmaceutical companies making big money at the expense of everybody else is not new, but this is a serious situation that calls for serious solutions. 

If we do not follow the idea of making COVID vaccine formulas open-source, then more variants will crop up just as Delta and Omicron did. More seasonal variants could lead to the worst case scenario of COVID-19 not being eradicated but instead being an illness that we must annually get immunized from via booster shots.

Opening access to vaccine formulas will make it easier for developing countries worldwide to combat the virus without needing to rely on the wealthier and seemingly indifferent countries.