COVID-19 vaccine poverty is the new GDP

COVID-19 vaccines have emerged as a critical capital to base economic recovery and reduce poverty faster. This makes them a powerful commodity to control

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Wednesday 09 June 2021

People queue up to be vaccinated in Baltimore, Maryland, US. Photo: WikimediaPeople queue up to be vaccinated in Baltimore, Maryland, US. Photo: Wikimedia

Vaccines against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are emerging as an antidote for under-development. Over 90 per cent of the world’s countries have reported an economic slowdown due to the pandemic. But access to COVID-19 vaccines and their deployment seem to be a critical precondition for fast economic recovery currently.

In the global post-pandemic development discourse, access to vaccines has gained a status similar to that of financial capital after any recession or big economic meltdown.

The Global Economic Prospects 2021, published by the World Bank, estimates the world economy is on path to an ‘unexceptionally strong’ recovery. In 2021, the world economy will grow by 5.6 per cent, which is the strongest post-recession pace in 80 years.

But this unbelievable news has the usual characteristic: The growth would come from primarily a handful of developed countries. And the developing countries including India would take more years to recover the lost economy before registering growth over the 2019 level.

“While about 90 per cent of advanced economies are expected to regain their pre-pandemic per capita income levels by 2022, only about one-third of EMDEs (Emerging Markets and Developing Economies) are expected to do so,” says the World Bank report.

The Bank’s analysis shows that countries vaccinating faster are also reporting faster economic recovery. In other words, access to vaccines decides recovery. The developed countries are currently through their crests of the pandemic and are aggressively vaccinating. But the developing countries are where the pandemic is raging and there are fears of fresh waves hitting them further.

“Vaccine inequity between countries and regions is posing a significant risk to an already uneven and fragile global recovery,” says Elliott Harris, the chief economist of the United Nations.  For instance, Africa as a continent has the lowest vaccine coverage and vaccination drives might stop due to non-availability of vaccines.

Globally, an average 11 per cent people have received at least the first dose of vaccine, while it is below two per cent for Africa. It is thus not unexpected that the African continent is reporting the slowest economic recovery and in future might witness fresh waves of the pandemic.

Similarly, India, which has faltered in its vaccine campaign, is also reporting the slowest recovery among emerging economies. “Growth in low-income economies this year is anticipated to be the slowest in the past 20 years other than 2020, partly reflecting the very slow pace of vaccination,” says the Bank.

Recently, the World Health Organization and the World Bank made a rate of return calculation on investment for pandemic-related infrastructure, including vaccines. This said that a $50 billion investment would result in generation of some $9 trillion in additional global output by 2025.

This makes access to vaccines a decisive condition to not just recover to the pre-pandemic level of development but also to keep on growing. In a way, access to vaccines can be added to the list of all decisive factors for better economic performance like availability of financial and natural capital, human resources and favourable socio-political environments.

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