SEATTLE, Washington — Greta Thunberg, a teenage climate change activist who took the world by storm in 2019 for her outspokenness about climate change, has offered her support to COVAX, an initiative dedicated to equitable vaccine distribution. In a show of her support, her foundation will be donating 100,000 euros to help fund the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines for low and middle-income countries and promote vaccine equity.
Thunberg’s activism has been mostly focused on calling out large businesses that she believes are doing too little to cut down on carbon emissions. However, because of the severity of the pandemic, Thunberg has also taken to speaking out about vaccine equity. She likens the vaccine crisis to the climate crisis and points out that the most vulnerable need to be helped first. Let’s take a look at what exactly vaccine equity is and why someone like Greta would support it.
The concept of vaccine equity is defined by Global Citizen as the equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide. In 2021, this is most applicable to the COVID-19 vaccine which is in the distribution process all around the world. Despite the public’s knowledge about the importance of vaccine equity, numbers show that vaccine inequity exists. 82% of the vaccines produced go to high and upper-middle-income countries. Only 0.2% of vaccines produced have gone to low-income countries.
Differences in economic resources across the world are one of the causes of this huge imbalance in vaccine distribution. A report by The Guardian in January 2021 shows that the United States, a high-income country, ordered 1.2 billion vaccines while the African Union ordered around 270 million at the same time. Relative to Africa’s population, this is only enough vaccines to give once to only about 20% of its population.
To help combat this inequality, WHO has created the COVAX initiative. The initiative aims to provide countries with vaccines for 20% of the population, keeping a diverse portfolio of vaccines and fast deliveries to countries in need of vaccines. It also aims to rebuild economies by helping countries vaccinate enough to re-open their economies.
The initiative is learning lessons from the HIV/AIDS epidemic during which not enough medicine was provided to low-income countries. In time, this disparity in access to medication worsened the impact that HIV/AIDS had on the world.
COVAX, Poverty and Greta Thunberg
Thunberg’s contributions to the COVAX initiative will ultimately go to purchasing vaccines to distribute to countries that need them but do not have the purchasing power to buy vaccines for themselves. Consequences of poor public health and pandemic, such as lockdowns and increased poverty rates, can have a variety of social and economic ramifications. They prevent families from bringing in the income they were previously able to. Therefore, when economic shocks come, these families may be more vulnerable.
In order to ensure a future in which everyone can participate in discussions about how to keep our planet healthy and people safe, vaccine equity first needs to be a priority. Just as how Greta Thunberg pushes corporations and high-income countries to set climate change standards, cut down emissions and reduce their carbon footprints, COVAX asks high-income countries and corporations to donate towards the initiative. Hopefully, with the help of young activists like Greta Thunberg, the world will achieve the equitable distribution of vaccines, bringing an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Susan Morales