• The World Bank expects the global economy to grow by 5.6% in 2021.
  • But it says the lingering pandemic could lead to a “faltering” global recovery.
  • A resurgence of COVID-19 cases and lagging vaccination progress are holding many countries back.

When will COVID-19 be over? It’s the question being asked by everyone from parents of young children to public health officials, economists to entrepreneurs the world over.

The global economy is expected to grow by 5.6% in 2021, the fastest post-recession pace in 80 years according to data from the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report. And while that recovery is expected to be uneven, the twice-yearly study suggests that developing economies will grow by 6% this year.

That figure is based on higher demand and elevated prices for commodities, many of which are produced by developing economies.

But the single greatest challenge remains COVID-19 itself.

Threat to recovery

Optimism over economic recovery is tempered by concerns about a resurgence of cases and the global inequities over access to vaccines.

An animated chart issued by the World Bank illustrates the problem clearly. The analysis revises the projected growth figure downwards (by 0.2 percentage points) for countries with below-median vaccination rates and upwards (by 0.8pp) for those with above-median vaccination rates.

Vaccine inequity

The gulf in vaccine distribution between rich and poor nations is breathtaking and self-defeating.

The vaccination rate among rich countries is just over 51% according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It’s about 1.4% for low-income nations. The figure for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (population 89m) is less than 0.1% – or fewer than 1 in 1000 people.

Vaccines, Health and healthcare, Gavi

What is the World Economic Forum doing about access to vaccines?

In 2000, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance was launched at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, with an initial pledge of $750 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The aim of Gavi is to make vaccines more accessible and affordable for all - wherever people live in the world.

Along with saving an estimated 10 million lives worldwide in less than 20 years,through the vaccination of nearly 700 million children, - Gavi has most recently ensured a life-saving vaccine for Ebola.

At Davos 2016, we announced Gavi's partnership with Merck to make the life-saving Ebola vaccine a reality.

The Ebola vaccine is the result of years of energy and commitment from Merck; the generosity of Canada’s federal government; leadership by WHO; strong support to test the vaccine from both NGOs such as MSF and the countries affected by the West Africa outbreak; and the rapid response and dedication of the DRC Minister of Health. Without these efforts, it is unlikely this vaccine would be available for several years, if at all.

Read more about the Vaccine Alliance, and how you can contribute to the improvement of access to vaccines globally - in our Impact Story.

According to the Vaccine Equity Dashboard, a tool developed in conjunction with United Nations (UN) agencies and the University of Oxford, growth rates in poorer countries – where many health workers are still yet to be vaccinated – may not get back to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

If low-income countries had the same vaccination rate as high-income countries, it says, they could add $38 billion to their GDP for 2021.

The dashboard also reports that on average the level of investment required to vaccinate 70% of the population is 0.8% of health budgets in rich countries compared to 56.6% in low-income countries.

High income countries: 1 in 2 people, or 51% have been vaccinated as of Aug 4, 2021.
High income countries: 1 in 2 people, or 51% had been vaccinated as of Aug 4, 2021.
Image: UNDP

Global solutions

So what can be done to address the challenge? The focus has been on speeding up vaccine distribution to developing countries.

The global programme COVAX – conceived to give the whole world fair access to COVID-19 vaccines – has so far delivered more than 150 million vaccine doses around the world, with a target of making 2 billion available by the end of 2021. However, in June it warned that short-term supply concerns remain, particularly throughout July and August.

Alongside, the World Bank says developing countries could take action to boost growth. It urges measures to reduce trade costs – almost 50% higher in developing compared to advanced economies – and investments in green infrastructure and climate resilience.

The report warns of the possibility of a lingering pandemic contributing to a downside scenario of a “faltering” global recovery similar to that which followed the global financial crisis of 2007-8. As the oft-repeated mantra goes: no one is safe, unless everyone is safe.