A new study published in Nature Medicine suggests that most people in high-income countries generally support the donation of some of their nation’s COVID-19 vaccine supplies to low-income countries.1
Equal access to vaccines is falling short
Reflecting general calls for equal access to emerging treatments and healthcare, concerns have arisen over low-income countries’ (LICs) access to COVID-19 vaccines. Collaborations such as COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX aim to overcome such issues, using funding from high-income countries (HICs) and middle-income countries to procure vaccines and supply them free of charge to LICs. However, COVAX'S goal of vaccinating 20% of those most vulnerable to COVID-19 worldwide is falling short; recent estimates suggest that LICs may be waiting until at least 2022 before this happens.
Part of the problem may lie in HICs having the monopoly on future vaccine supplies, often in numbers far exceeding their population size. According to research from Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center, the USA, for example, has pre-purchased over 1.2 billion doses of different COVID-19 vaccines. For context, the country’s population is currently estimated to be 330 million.
One solution to this issue could be the donation of vaccine supplies by HICs to LICs; but a government’s decision to do so may be influenced by public opinion. Researchers from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford aimed to find out whether individuals living in HICs would support donation and, if so, how much of the supply they believe should be donated.
People in HICs show support for vaccine donation
Lead researcher Professor Philip Clarke explains the findings of the study.
Conducted between November 24 and December 28, 2020, the study surveyed individuals from seven HICs, including the USA and UK. Overall, 8209 individuals responded to the anonymous online questionnaire.
Across the seven HICs:
- 48-56% of respondents supported the donation of vaccines to LICs
- 15-26% did not support donation
- 22-28% were undecided
The results show that, for each country, the number of individuals who supported vaccine donation was at least double the number of those that did not. As such, the researchers conclude that members of the public in HICs generally support the donation of some of their country’s vaccine supply to LICs. What does “some” of the supply mean to the individuals surveyed? The authors found that, out of those who supported vaccine donation, 73-81% favored the donation of an amount greater than or equal to 10% of their country’s supply.
The researchers note a limitation to the study in that the opinions found represent only a single point in time and could be subject to change. However, they also highlight that, since COVID-19 vaccine approval and rollout had already begun in some locations at the time of the study, discussions of vaccine distribution were no longer hypothetical.
Researchers emphasize benefits of re-distributing vaccines
The authors’ concluding statement echoes what many have said during the pandemic:
Providing further details on what a global solution could involve, lead researcher Professor Philip Clarke said, “Redistributing vaccine supplies from high-income countries would have global benefits. It would reduce the risk of the emergence and spread of new variants and benefit the economy, both globally and in donor countries,” in a press release
“This global problem requires global solutions.”
What are the costs, if so-called “vaccine nationalism” continues? “The economic cost of vaccine nationalism is potentially high,” warns Clarke. “The world’s economy is highly interconnected and as long as the virus is not under control everywhere, there will be a huge cost to the global economy – up to $1.2 trillion per year according to some estimates.”
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Reference: Clarke PM, Roope LSJ, Loewen PJ, et al. Public opinion on global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Nature Medicine. 2021. doi: 10.1038/s41591-021-01322-9.