barroso9_Camilo ErassoLong Visual PressUniversal Images Group via Getty Images_covax vaccines Camilo Erasso/Long Visual Press/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Avoiding COVID Complacency

While wealthy countries ease COVID-19 restrictions and welcome a return to normal life, many low-income countries are still struggling to get vaccines into people’s arms. The longer they remain short of the 70% immunization target, the more chances the virus will have to acquire dangerous new mutations.

GENEVA – History has shown that some of the most dangerous periods of pandemics come when life returns to normal too soon. A century ago, a premature “all clear” helped the second wave of Spanish influenza claim far more lives than the first, after a more virulent strain emerged. Today, many G7 and G20 countries are relaxing COVID-19 restrictions and shifting their focus away from pandemic response to pandemic prevention and preparedness (or to other issues entirely). But until every country achieves its national vaccination target, we cannot know whether we are out of the woods.

With 2.8 billion people unvaccinated, the coronavirus still has ample opportunity to circulate and mutate, potentially giving rise to new, more dangerous variants and fresh resurgences. Even in the face of other pressing crises such as the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 must remain a high global priority. The only way to eliminate the uncertainty and put the pandemic behind us is for global leaders to finish the job they started, by helping the dozens of lower-income countries that are still struggling to achieve adequate vaccine coverage.

These countries need help scaling up their vaccine delivery systems and turning doses into actual vaccinations. Now that high-income countries have achieved high coverage rates, the hoarding and bottlenecks that previously hindered global supply have eased. In fact, global vaccine supply is outstripping global demand for the first time. That’s good news for the global vaccination effort, and particularly for low-income countries where less than 15% of people have received their first shot. But it also underscores the challenge of getting doses into the arms of people living in difficult-to-reach, resource-poor environments.