BOSTON, Massachusetts — Even as the COVID-19 vaccine begins to roll out around the globe, the world’s most impoverished nations face an uphill battle in securing enough doses for their people. With wealthier countries buying up the vaccine, effectively “clearing the shelves,” developing countries have largely been left to fend for themselves. In the face of these vaccine inequities, Microsoft founder and philanthropist, Bill Gates, is mounting an effort to ensure vaccine equity, regardless of a country’s income.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Expanding access to vaccines has been a primary focus for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for decades. In the late 1990s, after reading a newspaper article on the hundreds of thousands of children who die each year of rotavirus, Gates and his wife established the Gates Foundation. They further established the Bill and Melinda Gates Children’s Vaccine Program, investing $100 million toward the goal of increasing children’s access to life-saving vaccines. In 2010 specifically, the couple invested a further $10 billion in vaccine research, development and distribution, calling for a “Decade of Vaccines.”
The experience it has in fighting global disease puts the Gates Foundation in a unique position to help lead a global COVID-19 inoculation effort. Since its founding, the Gates Foundation has developed partnerships and infrastructure around the world, particularly in low-income countries, that it is mobilizing in its global COVID-19 vaccination efforts. In an interview with the New York Times, a World Health Organization spokesperson labeled the foundation as “unmatched” in its ability to bring together global partners to fight the pandemic.
Investment in COVAX
Wealthy countries have already purchased more than half of the forecasted supply of COVID-19 vaccinations. Several countries have secured enough to inoculate their populations several times over, according to The Economist.
In an effort to increase vaccine access for lower-income countries, Gates has invested millions in COVAX, a global alliance of countries and manufacturers aiming to supply COVID-19 vaccines to some of the world’s most impoverished countries.
COVAX recently secured two billion doses of the vaccine. According to UNICEF, even with these vaccines, low-income countries still face coming up $133 million short on distribution and storage costs.
Urging Leaders to Support Vaccine Equity
Throughout the pandemic, Gates has also met with government officials and international leaders, urging them to fund vaccination efforts in low-income countries. He is actively advocating for these nations during the vaccine development process.
Gates has asked for consideration during the vaccine development process of the obstacles faced by developing countries. For example, vaccines that need multiple doses and cold storage present challenges for low-income nations.
Gates has also worked with U.K. minister, Boris Johnson, and French president, Emmanuel Macron, among other foreign leaders, to secure funding for efforts to increase vaccine access among low-income nations. At the Global Vaccine Summit in June 2020, governments and corporate leaders came together to raise $8.8 billion for Gavi, the global vaccine alliance. Gates helped establish Gavi and pledged 1.6 billion to the organization. The Gates Foundation also donated $100 million toward Gavi’s efforts to secure COVID-19 vaccines for developing countries, building on an initial donation of $50 million that was made in May 2020.
The Importance of Global Vaccine Access
In September 2020, at an online event hosted by WHO, Gates spoke about the importance of the world coming together to support increased vaccine access for middle and low-income countries. In his message, he sums up why vaccine equity is so important. “A vaccine can make COVID-19 a preventable disease and no one should die from a preventable disease simply because the country they live in cannot afford the vaccine.”
– Coalter Palmer