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Point of View: Collective response with vaccine is a must

Daniel Pham
Daniel Pham

It is the beginning of the end. Three coronavirus vaccines have shown promising results, and the first wave of vaccinations is underway. However, we must ensure equitable global access to these vaccines to see the end of this pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 300,000 Americans.

A study published in The BMJ found that 51% of the pre-ordered doses will go to high-income countries, despite only representing 14% of the world’s population. Thus, medium- and low-income countries will receive the vaccine much later depending on the supply and production of approved vaccines and the development of new ones. According to the Economist, some low-income countries will not expect widespread access to a vaccine before 2022-23.

It is a concerning projection because many Oklahomans are immigrants, likely to have people they cherish living across the world. According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants comprised 6% of Oklahoma’s population in 2018. They have been unable to see loved ones this year and worry about the uncertainty of when family and friends are receiving a vaccine. Additionally, Oklahomans will be limited in their ability to do business or travel abroad if vaccinations are not widely available for the global community.

To increase vaccine manufacturing, countries in the World Trade Organization proposed making it easier for manufacturers in their countries to make COVID-19 drugs and vaccines. High-income countries, including ours, rejected the proposal, reluctantly, to waive specific intellectual property rights provisions. However, the trade-offs are worth it when considering both the extraneous circumstances of the pandemic and the fact that the leading vaccines developed from publicly funded research.

Understandably, this is a difficult conversation because there are already issues producing and distributing vaccines within high-income countries, including ours. Additionally, some scientists believe the new COVID-19 variant, called B.1.1.7, is more transmissible, highlighting the urgency and dilemma of distributing the initial vaccines.

As an Oklahoman, son of immigrants and future health care worker, I understand that the health of communities, both local and global, affect our health. The current vaccine distribution plan is prioritizing vulnerable populations and front-line workers. It ought to do the same regardless of national borders.

The response to this highly contagious virus in a globalized world must be a collective one. As the WHO puts it, no country will be safe from the pandemic until all countries are protected. Our policymakers and leaders prioritize our well-being. Then, ensuring equitable global access to the vaccines is in our best interests.

Pham, an Oklahoma City native, attends medical school at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.