In July of 2002, the World Health Organization gave a name to the mysterious disease brought on by a novel coronavirus – Covid-19. One year later, vaccines were launched to battle this deadly disease. The one-year span between the onset of the disease and the deployment of the vaccines, despite issues of inequity and hesitancy, is noteworthy.
A recent report from the Center for Global Development (CGD) underlines the miracle of the Covid-19 vaccination drive. The study found that the Covid-19 vaccine campaign was “the most rapid in history,” outstripping other monumental achievements like the vaccines for measles and smallpox.
This achievement is all the more impressive because, while most vaccination drives target children, the Covid-19 vaccination drive targets the entire global population. Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at CGD, explained to Vox that it was the first global vaccination campaign to target “every adult in one year.”
However, the impressive speed of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is primarily relevant to high-income nations. Data from Our World in Data reveals that 61.9% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, compared to only 10.6% in low-income nations.
Josh Michaud, associate director of Global Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said via email that, “Our benchmark for progress should not necessarily be quicker than what we did decades ago.” Kenny agreed, saying that while the report is encouraging, it should be viewed with caution. “Did we do enough?” he asked. “That is a separate issue.” He believes we have not, but it’s still important to recognize that vaccines are being deployed more effectively than ever before.
The Covid-19 vaccine rollout brought to light glaring inequalities, with the world’s least protected people continuing to bear the brunt. But its success is also a beacon of hope for the current pandemic and any that might follow. Now, we have a benchmark for how quickly we can implement an international vaccine program.
We learned from the Covid-19 pandemic that the fight against infectious disease is a race against time. The CGD’s research found that historically, it took an average of 36 years to develop and roll out a vaccine that could cover 20 percent of the global population. By comparison, it took less than a year to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 and less than eight months to reach 20% global coverage.
The Covid-19 rollout and development was placed in the context of other global vaccination initiatives like the smallpox vaccines, routine childhood vaccinations, and annual influenza vaccinations. Lessons were learned from each, contributing to the rapid development of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Yet, there were certain drawbacks in the Covid-19 vaccine distribution. An element of the campaign against smallpox that was missing during Covid-19 is global cooperation. Despite Cold War tensions, the US and Soviet Union engaged in “vaccine diplomacy” which was crucial for the elimination of smallpox. However, similar collaboration, particularly between China & the US, was noticeably absent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nationalistic tendencies of high-capacity vaccine producing countries like the US, and the failure to adequately support Covax, the main vehicle for ensuring vaccine equality, exacerbated inequalities. Kenny told Vox that “no particular government did particularly well” when it came to cooperating to ensure global vaccine distribution.
While the response to Covid-19 has been remarkably swift compared to historical standards, it falls short in many ways. However, it also reveals what we can do and need to improve upon for future global health crises.
The history of Covid-19 vaccination teaches us a valuable lesson – in combating infectious diseases, speed is of the essence. It’s a lesson we got right during the pandemic, and it’s one we’ll carry forward to future global health threats.
This post was written by a medical professional at The Wellness Firm. The Wellness Firm provides IV therapy in Tampa, including blood work, COVID services off & offshore, micronutrient testing, food intolerance testing, IV cocktails, IM injections, IV vitamins for persistent illnesses, and more. Professionals from The Wellness Firm offer high-quality, on-site service.