The dust from the G7 summit has settled and big statements have been made: the leaders of the world’s richest democracies have set the target of ending the pandemic by the close of 2022.
The question is whether their actions match their words. The G7 nations have pledged 1 billion vaccine doses to lower-income nations, but it’s estimated that 11 billion will be needed to raise global immunity levels sufficiently to suppress the coronavirus. There is a clear gap between rhetoric and reality, with this commitment representing a massive failure of ambition and leadership by the G7, says Michael Jennings, reader in international development at SOAS.
In fact, the whole means of getting sufficient doses to poorer nations needs a rethink, argue Sophie Harman, Eugene Richardson and Parsa Erfani. Sharing leftover vaccines is an unsustainable model, dependent on the whim of individual countries. Covax, the vaccine-sharing initiative, has already shown how donations-based distribution can fall apart. If a donor country suddenly finds itself in need of more vaccine doses, its donations will simply dry up.
A better solution, they argue, would be to bolster the production of vaccine doses by lower-income countries themselves, by waiving intellectual property protection on the vaccines and transferring the necessary technology and know-how from richer countries to poorer ones.
This would be difficult, says Klaus Meyer, professor of international business at Western University – but not impossible. Sizable investment would be needed to develop production capacity in countries in Africa, for example. But perhaps the greatest resource needed would be time. Building production capacity might not happen quickly enough to help end the pandemic. But if done now, it could help quash the next one before it gets going.
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Meanwhile, the UK government has stated that being vaccinated for COVID-19 will become mandatory for care home workers. Compulsory vaccinations are always contentious, and Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu at the University of Oxford have considered both sides of the argument.
On the one hand, trying to persuade everyone working in the sector to take a vaccine hasn’t worked: 10% of care staff still aren’t fully vaccinated. Because they are caring for some those most vulnerable to the disease, enforcing vaccination could be deemed proportionate.
But there are also risks – albeit rare ones – that come with COVID-19 vaccines, and at least a quarter of care home staff have already gained some natural immunity through being infected while at work. It’s also not guaranteed that taking a vaccine blocks someone from passing on the coronavirus. The risk-benefit ratio may not therefore be in favour of taking a vaccine for all staff, particularly those who are younger. Enforcing take-up thus feels unfair.
Plus, people with lingering doubts over getting vaccinated may still decide to do so of their own accord. Seeing many other people doing something – such as getting vaccinated for COVID-19 – creates what’s known as “social proof”, says Andrew Chadwick, professor of political communication at Loughborough University. Social proof is a powerful tool generating conformity, so as more and more people get jabbed, we may see hesitancy rates fall anyway.
That said, not all hesitancy is easily overcome. New research estimates that as many as 10% of those who are vaccine hesitant in the UK could be so not for any ideological reason, or because of any health concern, but simply because they have a phobia of needles. But the best solution in this scenario, argues Daniel Freeman, professor of clinical psychology of the University of Oxford, isn’t making vaccines mandatory – it’s attacking the root cause of hesitancy with tried-and-tested treatments for phobias.