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Achieving COVID-19 vaccine equity means overcoming hesitancy

vaccine equity for COVID-19 vaccines

Achieving global vaccine equity will be a public-private effort. Image: Unsplash.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem
Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, DP World
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This article is part of: The Davos Agenda

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  • Vaccine hesitancy and inequitable vaccine distribution could undermine progress against COVID-19.
  • Businesses can offer logistical expertise and infrastructure to deliver vaccines.
  • Leveraging brand trust to combat disinformation can also help with the global vaccination effort.

It still feels like a medical miracle: scientists worldwide have developed not one but multiple vaccines against the coronavirus in record time. It gave our world the hope of rapidly containing a pandemic that has killed millions, damaged our global economy, and most hurt those who could least afford it.

And yet, our world could still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The reason is a two-pronged COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Firstly, and most obviously is among the public, where people doubt the achievements of science and delay getting vaccinated themselves (even though many of them are not outright vaccine refusers). The second is among businesses, where many companies with worldwide operations have left it to governments and overwhelmed local healthcare systems to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines.

It has been two years since COVID-19 took hold and vaccine equity and distribution remain a critical issue. High-income countries now have vaccination rates that are well above 60%, and their programmes to deliver booster vaccinations have accelerated exponentially in light of the Omicron variant. However, when we look at the rest of the world, the distribution of vaccines and supplies to some of the poorest countries has been badly delayed.

Tracking global COVID-19 vaccine equity: a snapshot of vaccine distribution progress at the end of 2021. Source: DP World.
Tracking global COVID-19 vaccine equity: a snapshot of vaccine distribution progress at the end of 2021. Source: DP World.

So far, only one in seven vaccine doses promised has been delivered, and a mere 1.3% of the population has been vaccinated. This inequity is not just an issue of fairness but a global health problem in itself. The longer there is a delay in vaccinations reaching every part of the world, the higher the chances of new and more dangerous variants of this coronavirus developing.

Vaccine equity is the business of every business

The delays in achieving global vaccine equity are partly a question of production capacity and partly of funding. However, as vaccine production ramps up, a third challenge emerges: a lack of vaccination infrastructure. The world urgently needs to build capacity in the poorest nations to deliver and administer vaccines safely and securely.

That is why it is time for businesses to step up. Supporting the vaccination drive should be the business of every business. Whether companies offer investment, resources, or specialist expertise, it will take a monumental collaborative effort to help developing nations build the infrastructure they so urgently need.

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Now is the time to set up the most ambitious public-private partnerships to boost vaccine equity. We have to bring together governments, healthcare systems, and businesses from every industry to build the world's largest, most comprehensive, and most trustworthy vaccination network.

The action starts at a local level by providing safe, trusted, and efficient vaccination centres, to creating the global logistics network needed to get vaccines to their distribution points.

Businesses must invest in resources and leverage brand trust

Businesses have a part to play, for example logistics and supply chain solutions providers can enable organizations like UNICEF to distribute critical supplies to where they are needed most. Companies can also fund the procurement of vaccines or – maybe more importantly – open up offices, factories, or other facilities to be vaccination centres.

However, this is not just about physical infrastructure. We live in a world that is suffering from an infodemic, where a deluge of disinformation undermines the credibility of science, which in turn undermines the global effort to contain and defeat this pandemic. Now more than ever, companies have to use the trust and credibility of their brands and extend them to the global vaccination effort – and the science behind it.

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These investments – of trust and resources – will deliver more than defeating the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the opportunity to establish an agile, resilient and global healthcare and disaster recovery infrastructure that can help us tackle future pandemics and also large-scale natural disasters.

We must use platforms like the World Economic Forum to bring together businesses and their resources and expertise. We must agree on efficient ways of working with organizations like the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and non-governmental organizations to build the capacity and infrastructure to get the world vaccinated as quickly as possible – and help in emergencies beyond.

We must tackle vaccine hesitancy head-on – at a business level and on a societal level. We must not allow vaccine hesitancy to sabotage our efforts to save millions of lives and rebuild our global economy, which will safeguard the livelihoods of billions of people.

Because until we help everyone, this pandemic will not end for anyone.

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