Vaccine accessibility for poor will decide fate for global economy in 2021
Published: Dec 30, 2020 11:51 PM

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/GT

Massive COVID-19 vaccination has started across EU this week. Making the announcement on twitter over the weekend, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the near-simultaneous start of vaccinations across the bloc "a touching moment of unity."

After recent emergence and faster transmission of a new COVID-19 variant in the UK and other countries flared up renewed concerns worldwide, it seems to be more urgent to start promoting vaccination - the most effective measure in fight against the pandemic. Many countries have accelerated vaccine programs hoping to quickly beat the virus and begin the path towards economic regeneration. 

Despite potential challenges in fight against a new wave of coronavirus, the latest progress in the development of vaccines has boosted market confidence in the economic outlook. Vaccines are now widely regarded as a catalyst to boost economic recovery, and countries are racing against time to develop new products.

While taking careful vaccine approach to counter skepticism, leaders of some European countries are proactively pushing broader COVID-19 vaccination campaign. France President Emmanuel Macron reiterated Sunday that the vaccine will be free of charge - and not mandatory.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the global economy. Causing disruption to both supply and demand, the pandemic has plunged the global economy into one of the worst recessions in history. There is still no way to tell exactly when a full economic recovery will come.

The pandemic has severely damaged sectors such as transportation and tourism, and seriously damaged the global supply chains and international trade, with emerging economies and low-income populations bearing the brunt of the pain.

The International Monetary Fund forecasted in October the global economy could shrink 4.4 percent this year, before bouncing back to 5.2 percent growth in 2021. 

Vaccinations will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the pandemic control, thus further promoting the rapid recovery of the global economy. The importance of accelerating vaccine research and development, reducing costs and getting more people immunized with affordable vaccines is self-evident.

In its latest economic outlook, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has lifted global economic outlook on vaccine progress. 

While many countries have accelerated vaccination programs, some economists noted that the speed of vaccination in many developing economies may remain slow, which may hinder these economies from seeing a rapid recovery to pre-pandemic levels. In the context of global economic integration, developing countries take up a large share of the global market. The increase of inequality will weaken their consumption ability, which is certainly not conducive to the global economic recovery.

The EU plans to continue buying billions of doses of vaccine from several vaccine manufacturers from both Europe and the US and intends to vaccinate all adults in Europe next year, according to media reports. EU countries will pay for the vaccine according to their own budget, and some countries have announced free vaccination for people. However, for the low-income population in developed countries and developing countries, participating in vaccine trials has become the best choice for them to get vaccinated. The vaccine accessibility for these people will determine how far the global economic recovery can reach next year.

An additional 207 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030, due to the severe long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic, bringing the total number to more than a billion, according to a new study from the UN Development Programme. Facing this potential crisis, it is necessary for major powers to cooperate in fighting the virus and promoting economic recovery.

Poverty is not an issue that a country can solely solve by simply providing aid and goodwill. It requires cooperation among major powers. It is imperative for China - the largest developing country - and the US - the largest developed country - to work together, taking advantage of each country's respective strengths, to tackle this issue. 

In terms of vaccine research and development, countries should actively promote cooperation to make vaccines an affordable public resource. Reducing the cost of vaccines and improving the accessibility can secure vulnerable groups and protect their rights to health and safety. 

The author is an associate research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce.

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