Vaccine Injustice : A ‘Third-World Problem’

The world rejoices when the news of COVID-19 vaccines development is finally reaching its mass-production stage. Several variants of vaccine are now available to use, its first ever mass-production started in early December 2020 – the World Health Organization providing assurance that they work closely alongside governments organization in order to prioritize the safety and quality of the vaccines in use (World Health Organization, 2021). After months of self-isolation inside the house in order not to contract the contagious disease and doing almost everything online-based via the world wide web, this news surely brings joy to everyone whose daily activities are constricted by the pandemic regulations.

Unfortunately, this is not yet the time for a celebration. Even though there is already an available solution to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic, new challenges revolving around the insurance for the distribution of said solution had started to emerge. On January 2021, The COVID-19 Global Access (COVAX), an initiative to provide COVID-19 vaccine access for all countries without regarding their income, aimed to distribute at least 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021 with 1.3 billion from that total are targeted for 92 medium to low income countries (World Health Organization, 2021). The COVAX is a facility created to avoid a repetition of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic uneven vaccine access, allocating the accessible vaccine supplies with affordable prices for all. However, many rich countries with high incomes decided not to buy the COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX – settling to seek priority access by building a bilateral collaboration  with the pharmaceutical companies and pre-ordering supplies from the developers to secure enough vaccines for most, if not all, adults in their countries. The government of these countries had secured at least 4.2 billion doses of the vaccine, reaching up to 70% of the total available supplies for 2021 (Wouters, et al., 2021).

These actions, if seen in an objective point of view without considering the social norms, is not something to be categorized as ‘wrong’. The countries mentioned are buying the vaccine doses for the sake of their citizens – prioritizing the health of their own civilian in order to restore the situation inside their countries for their own interest because they have the ability to do so. The pharmaceutical companies that managed to develop the vaccines for COVID-19 are looking for gains, they have no responsibility to choose those who are in need over those who can pay for the vaccines – a company, is after all, capitalistic in nature. Nonetheless, so much for the ‘international solidarity’ echoed before, on the beginning of the COVID-19 spread. It must be underlined that the global world is currently facing a global pandemic with the amount of 119 million cases and 2.64 million deaths in total. Facing this kind of depressing situation, the rise of humanitarian crisis through the act of monopolizing the pandemic is concerning and is something that should not be conducted in the first place.

Back in October 2020, South Africa and India had proposed the waiver of patents regarding the COVID-19 medical supplies until global immunity is reached to the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Council. This proposal was made to actually create and gain a semblance of the global solidarity mentioned so long ago, giving chances for countries with medium and low-income to have easier access over the vaccine that is severely needed worldwide. There are 99 countries ready to support this proposal with the shared need over the scarcity of the COVID-19 vaccines. Regrettably, to those high-income countries previously spoken of, this is something that should not happen (Cie?la & Eliassen, 2020). These countries, namely the EU countries and the United States, argue that a ban to their patents would hinder the pharmaceutical companies by denying them the incentive for further investments on research and development (Boseley, 2021). That’s easy for them to say since they have priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines to begin with. Even the World Health Organization Director-General depicted this occurrence as a ‘catastrophic moral failure’ (World Health Organization, 2021).

Written by: Tiara Putri Indira Dewanti ( Universitas Gadjah Mada )


Boseley, S., 2021. WHO chief: waive Covid vaccine patents to put world on 'war footing'. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/05/covid-vaccines-who-chief-backs-patent-waiver-to-boost-production
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Cie?la, W. & Eliassen, I., 2020. History repeats itself: Attempts to prevent vaccine injustice have provided questionable results. [Online]
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World Health Organization, 2021. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vaccines. [Online]
Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)-vaccines
[Accessed 8 March 2021].

World Health Organization, 2021. COVAX Announces new agreement, plans for first deliveries. [Online]
Available at: https://www.who.int/news/item/22-01-2021-covax-announces-new-agreement-plans-for-first-deliveries
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World Health Organization, 2021. WHO Director-General's opening remarks at 148th session of the Executive Board. [Online]
Available at: https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-148th-session-of-the-executive-board
[Accessed 8 March 2021].

Wouters, O. J. et al., 2021. Challenges in ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines: production, affordability, allocation, and deployment. The Lancet, 397(10278), pp. 1023-1034.



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