Inflammation and stories on vaccines

Vaccine Distribution in Latin America
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Latin America hard. As of July 2021, about 1.3 million people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have died from COVID-19 alone, showing the devastating toll that the virus has had on families throughout the region. With such a high death toll and the introduction of new, more dangerous variants of the original virus, the question of vaccine distribution in Latin America has been a topic of discussion among health experts.

Throughout Latin America, vaccination rates overall have remained lower than world averages. Some countries such as Uruguay have a higher vaccination rate. As of September 16, 2021, the country has administered 171.68 doses per 100 people. Chile’s vaccination rate is second to Uruguay, with 159.65 doses administered per 100 people. The two countries with the lowest vaccination rates are Nicaragua, with 10.97 doses per 100 people and Haiti, with 0.44 doses per 100 people.

Vaccine distribution in Latin America unequivocally varies per country. These discrepancies are problematic in combatting the disease throughout the region. Many of the regions with low vaccination rates have some of the highest mortality rates as well, which has caused more need for the vaccine.

Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released a report in April 2021 detailing vaccination distribution in Latin America. It included its recommendations and the challenges that Latin America needs to overcome to increase vaccination rates and better the population’s overall prospects. UNESCO gave strategies for vaccination, focusing on impoverished areas that have higher mortality rates. Yet, UNESCO also projects that only approximately a third of people in Latin America and the Caribbean will receive vaccinations by the end of 2021.

Guillermo Anllo, a UNESCO program head for Latin America and the Caribbean, spoke to Reuters in early August. Anllo emphasized how crucial equity is to the distribution of vaccines in Latin America. The pace of vaccination has been slow in the region as a whole due to structural issues. For example, the highest income countries throughout the world have vaccination rates that are 30 times faster than the countries that have the lowest incomes.

Furthermore, economies have experienced damage during the pandemic, especially those in the Caribbean who rely on tourism. This damage to tourism has a ripple effect on the purchasing power of the countries’ governments to obtain more vaccinations, slowing the process in this way as well.

Efforts to Increase Vaccine Distribution

Worldwide organizations and agencies have sent aid to Latin America throughout the spring of 2021. Most recently, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has vowed to increase access to vaccines and to help minimize transmission of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean. This plan comes from PAHO’s Revolving Fund for Access to Vaccines, which has operated for more than 40 years to distribute vaccines to places in need. PAHO’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Latin America will go to the areas and people at the greatest risk in order to adequately and equitably protect the people of these regions.

With more vaccines on the way and a heightened urgency to vaccinate due to spreading variants, more inhabitants of Latin America will hopefully see higher rates of vaccinations and an increase in safety from the virus in the near future.

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Vaccine Equity
Vaccine equity is important when it comes to distributing COVID-19 vaccines within different parts of the world. Some global initiatives plan on reaching out to many communities by spreading the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, other factors exist that one should consider when it comes to the importance of promoting vaccine equity.

COVAX Initiative

The purpose of the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, also known as COVAX, is to promote vaccine equity by increasing the availability of vaccines globally. COVAX’s main focus is on providing vaccines to citizens of many countries between now and the rest of 2021. This includes prioritizing countries that would benefit from receiving free vaccines. While working with organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, COVAX will receive enough support to ensure that more people will contribute to improving vaccine access.

Voices for Vaccines

The goal of one global challenge is to expand information regarding COVID-19 vaccines around the world. In collaboration with the Nursing Now Challenge Global Solutions Initiative, the Voices for Vaccines challenge encourages healthcare workers to spread awareness about COVID-19 vaccines and help improve vaccine equity. Anyone who applies will be able to share experiences they have had with other patients, along with sharing their personal knowledge. This challenge will also give workers the opportunity to have open discussions about the importance of promoting equal access to vaccines.

Intrepid Travel’s Vaccine Equity Campaign

One company recently came up with a plan to promote vaccine equity in different parts of the world. One of the things Intrepid Travel’s campaign focuses on is increasing the availability of COVID-19 vaccines. This will occur by informing people about COVID-19 vaccines and expanding access to improve access to vaccines. A donation from the Intrepid Foundation will also go towards supporting the cause. Some places such as Peru and Sri Lanka have provided transportation and hosted informational sessions to help increase people’s access to vaccines.

Other Ways to Increase Vaccine Equity

 One fact that one should consider when it comes to increasing vaccine equity is the creation process of COVID-19 vaccines. The process of tech transfer makes it more difficult for manufacturers to prepare vaccines due to supply, leading countries that need more vaccines to lose access to them. Some forms of technology can help increase the availability of needles and other important items. Companies choosing to work together will be helpful in promoting vaccine equity and saving lives.

The COVAX initiative plans to prioritize expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines and help improve access to vaccines. The Voices for Vaccines challenge is a way to encourage health care workers to emphasize the importance of receiving vaccinations. Intrepid Travel’s vaccine campaign focuses on eliminating barriers to vaccine access. Focusing on where vaccines go after manufacturers create them can have a positive impact on vaccine equity.

– Chloe Moody
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The covid-19 vaccination in HungaryThe coronavirus infection rate is dropping rapidly throughout Hungary thanks to a steadily increasing rate of COVID-19 vaccination. From a peak of around 10,000 daily new cases in March 2021, as of June Hungary sees fewer than 200 daily new cases.

In May, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas announced that Hungary will not join the new vaccination deal. As part of the deal, Pfizer and BioNTech will provide an additional 2.6 billion doses throughout the European Union (EU). Hungary is the only EU country that has opted out of the deal.

According to Gulyas, the Hungarian government is confident in its current supply. Gulyas stated that in the event a booster becomes necessary, “there are plenty of vaccines from Eastern and Western sources as well.”  Orban used his strong ties with Russia and China to purchase and deploy vaccines from those countries even before the EU approved them.

Vaccination Campaign Successes

Since January, almost half of Hungarians have received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a result, infection rates have declined rapidly across the country. Compared to the rest of the EU, Hungary had a relatively low infection rate throughout the pandemic.  Hungary peaked at about 10,000 new cases per day. In the first week of July, there was an average of 41 new infections reported per day. That’s less than one percent of the daily average during the country’s peak on March 25. Furthermore, the country has seen fewer than one million COVID-19 cases overall.

Hungary has also expanded vaccine eligibility quickly. It is the first EU country to approve vaccination for citizens as young as 16, who are eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech doses. Around 90,000 young people have already registered for the shot, accompanied by parental permission for those under 18. Euronews reported that “according to government plans, by mid-June, all Hungarians willing to get a Western-developed jab can be vaccinated.” Hungary is hoping to be able to vaccinate children as young as age six which would mean virtually all schoolchildren by early fall when school starts.

Low-Income Families and Vaccination

The percentage of Hungarians at risk of poverty has declined steadily in recent years, dropping around 3% from 2013 to 2020.  Hungary’s at-risk poverty rate was 12.3 % in 2020.  COVID-19 has been harsher on the at-risk population, especially the Roma population living in poor settlements.  The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), a human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) advocates for targeted measures to protect the Roma from COVID.  HCLU claims that the Hungarian government has overlooked the fact that the Roma have been more vulnerable to COVID’s economic consequences because they lack any financial reserves and rely on day-to-day odd jobs.

A Promising Start

With half of Hungarians vaccinated and many more eligible, working life is returning to normal, allowing the economy to thrive. As low-income citizens including the Roma get vaccinated, they will be able to return to work without fear of illness. Also, fewer people will lose their jobs due to business closures. This successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign is leading Hungary toward a safe return to life as it used to be. Furthermore, the government is confident that its current supply of vaccine doses can sustain the campaign’s success.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Unsplash

Global hepatitis eliminationHepatitis-related illnesses kill someone every 30 seconds. While many strains have treatments, the disease is incredibly prevalent. About 354 million people have hepatitis B or C and around 80% are unable to receive the appropriate care. The illness appears all over the world, as 116 million have it in the Western Pacific Region, 81 million in Africa, 60 million in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 18 million in South-East Asia, 14 million in Europe and 5 million in the Americas. Global hepatitis elimination is possible with additional steps and education. However, as of right now, hepatitis is clearly very significant across the globe.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver often from infection or liver damage. While acute hepatitis often does not have symptoms, some symptoms can occur including:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • High temperature
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, grey fecal matter
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice

Types of Hepatitis

There are five prominent types of hepatitis:

  1. Hepatitis A: Caused by the hepatitis A virus, people usually catch it when consuming food or drink contaminated with the fecal matter of an affected person. It is more common in places with poor sanitation and typically passes within a few months but could potentially be life-threatening. While there is no specific treatment, professionals recommend vaccination if a person is at “high risk of infection” or traveling to an area where it is more prevalent.
  2. Hepatitis B: Caused by the hepatitis B virus, hepatitis B spreads through “the blood of an infected person.” Hepatitis B is very common globally and typically spreads from an “infected pregnant woman to her babies or [through] child-to-child contact.” Sometimes it spreads through injecting drugs or unprotected sex but that is fairly rare. This strain is significant in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Most adults who get it recover in a couple of months, however, children often develop a long-term infection that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. A vaccine exists for hepatitis B.
  3. Hepatitis C: The hepatitis C virus causes this strain and is fairly common globally. Typically, the virus spreads through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person, so sharing needles is significant. Since many do not have symptoms, most people may not know they are sick without testing. One in four people is able to fight off the infection, however, it will stay in others for years. Chronic hepatitis C could cause cirrhosis and liver failure.
  4. Hepatitis D: Caused by the hepatitis D virus, this strain only affects those with hepatitis B. Spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact, it is prevalent in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
  5. Hepatitis E: Caused by the hepatitis E virus, people usually catch it by eating raw or undercooked pork, venison, shellfish or offal. Typically, it is a “mild and short-term infection that does not require any treatment,” but people with a weakened immune system may be more at risk.

Other forms include alcoholic hepatitis, which occurs when a person drinks large amounts of alcohol. There is also autoimmune hepatitis, which is rare and occurs when “the immune system attacks and damages the liver.” A medication to reduce inflammation is available. Global hepatitis elimination needs to focus on all strains but especially B and C.

Methods of Reduction

By 2030, diagnostic tests, awareness campaigns, testing and vaccines could prevent 4.5 million deaths in low and middle-income countries. Currently, only 42% of children receive the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. Nevertheless, global hepatitis elimination is very possible. A daily medication taken for 8-12 weeks cures most with hepatitis C and medications for hepatitis B are available. Both hepatitis A and B are preventable with safe and effective vaccines. Vaccinating more children would significantly reduce cases and be a major step towards global hepatitis elimination.

Additionally, since hepatitis A and E both spread mostly in areas with poor sanitation, improvements in sanitation could drastically reduce infections. Testing is another important step as many do not know they have it. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) “estimated that only 10% of people with hepatitis B and 21% of people with hepatitis C worldwide knew they were infected. Of these, 22% and 62% had received treatment, respectively.”

Goals for 2030

The World Health Assembly called for the near or total elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030. This would entail:

  • A 90% reduction in new cases of hepatitis B and C
  • A 65% reduction in deaths
  • Treatment for 80% who have the illness

The Global Immunization Strategic Framework has laid out how to achieve global hepatitis elimination. Goals include strengthening vaccination services, helping improve access to testing and improving the response to outbreaks. Safe vaccines for hepatitis A and B already exist, so improving access to them is important. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that only 10% of people with hepatitis B and 21% with hepatitis C know they are sick. That means that improvements in both testing and education are vital first steps before improving vaccination rates. Therefore, global hepatitis elimination is possible with increased testing and vaccination rates.

– Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

Vaccinating refugeesVaccine rollout plans around the world often overlook the world’s 26 million refugees. A whole 126 countries have refugee populations of more than 500 people. As refugees make up a significant part of the population, during a global health pandemic, the world will not truly be safe until nations safeguard the health of refugees too. Although many countries are making efforts to protect refugees, barriers remain prevalent. Global inequalities continue to exacerbate the situation. Wealthy countries administered 85% of the world’s vaccines, however, 85% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries that struggle to access vaccines. Bangladesh is prioritizing vaccinating refugees and the rest of the world needs to follow suit by including the most vulnerable populations.

Bangladesh’s Vaccine Campaign for Rohingya Refugees in Cox’s Bazar

In August 2017, spikes of violence in Myanmar forced 745,000 Rohingya citizens to flee into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar is now the world’s largest refugee settlement with more than one million refugees living in the cramped camps.

At the end of July 2021, devastating monsoons in Cox’s Bazar killed about eight refugees and displaced 25,000 people, simultaneously destroying thousands of facilities, including health clinics and latrines. Damaged roads hinder humanitarian access, making Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh more vulnerable than ever.

In addition to the recent natural disasters, Bangladesh is experiencing an upward trend in positive COVID-19 cases. Bangladesh authorities recognize the extreme vulnerability of the refugee population. As such, on August 9, 2021, Bangladesh launched a vaccine drive in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. With the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other humanitarian organizations, Bangladesh plans to vaccinate all refugees in waves. The first cohort includes 65,000 refugees made up of community leaders, health volunteers and anyone older than the age of 55.

The Importance of Vaccinating Refugees

Although refugees seem to be the last group receiving vaccines, the WHO has placed refugees in the second priority group for vaccinations. Refugees fall into the same group as at-risk people and those suffering from serious health conditions because refugees tend to live in crowded communities that lack clean water and basic healthcare, making the spread of COVID-19 cases inevitable. No country can curb the spread of COVID-19 while the virus continues to ravage its way through refugee communities.

Barriers to Refugee Vaccination

Most countries understand how crucial vaccinating refugees is to ending the pandemic, however, these major barriers remain:

  • Language barriers lead to misinformation and vaccine distrust.
  • Online registrations exclude those who lack access to the internet.
  • Volunteers are registering refugees at camps, however, a portion of refugees do not live in camps, they live with relatives or family friends.
  • Many refugees fear arrest or deportation at vaccine sites.
  • Vaccine shortages as some countries like India paused vaccine exports due to rising cases in India.
  • The question of liability — who will take responsibility for refugees that suffer serious side effects from the vaccine?

The world not only needs to make vaccines accessible for refugees but must also make refugees feel safe enough to pursue vaccination. Refugees are among the most vulnerable people on the planet, therefore, it is imperative for the world to join Bangladesh in prioritizing the vaccination of refugees because no one is safe until everyone is safe.

– Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

Vaccination Campaign in Kenya
Due to COVID-19, routine vaccination campaigns came to a halt in several developing countries. As a result, there were several outbreaks of other diseases, including rubella and measles. Measles is a highly contagious virus, and while it is preventable with a vaccine, it can lead to severe complications, and even death, if an individual goes unvaccinated. The pandemic offset vaccination campaigns in more than 40 countries in both 2020 and 2021, which “increases the risk of bigger outbreaks around the world.” One of the countries impacted by delayed immunizations is Kenya. However, the new measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Kenya that started in June 2021 may save the lives of millions of infants and young children.

Vaccination Campaign in Kenya

The measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Kenya, also known as the MR campaign, began on June 26, 2021, and ended on July 5, 2021. Several organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, worked with the government of Kenya to deliver the vaccines. The initiative occurred in 22 Kenyan counties. Additionally, the organizations prioritized the counties with especially high numbers of measles cases and high counts of unvaccinated children. The campaign targeted children from 9 months old all the way up to children 5 years of age. Overall, the campaign targeted around four million children in Kenya.

The operation incorporated collaborative measures to allow the campaigns to run smoothly and quickly throughout the counties. This included hiring a high number of healthcare workers and setting up more than 5,000 vaccination sites. More than 16,000 healthcare workers participated in administering the vaccines. Along with the cost-free vaccines administered at health clinics and facilities, the operation included vaccination spots at “preschools, marketplaces, churches and other designated places on specific days” with the aim of vaccinating as many children as possible. Additionally, in order to raise awareness, a telecommunications company sent out mass text messages about the campaign.

Prioritizing Prevention

Since 2016, immunizations have been declining in Kenya, causing the number of outbreaks to rise, even though “the MR vaccine has been offered as part of the routine childhood immunization program” within the country.  The pandemic worsened those conditions, with 16.6 million African children missing “supplemental vaccination against measles between January 2020 and April 2021.” Moreover, measles surveillance declined in 2020.

In order for communities to avoid measles outbreaks, full vaccination rates need to be at least 95% for children. However, just 50% of children in Kenya received the full vaccine in 2020. Thankfully, with support from the Kenyan government and organizations such as UNICEF, health officials were able to provide MR vaccines to children across the country. This helped to manage measles outbreaks and safeguard the lives of many children this year. To continue more health initiatives after the MR vaccination campaign, Kenya is rolling out even more vaccination campaigns. This also includes a “multi-antigen catch-up campaign” to reduce the chances of further outbreaks and decrease the number of preventable deaths in Kenya.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Vaccinating Maré's favelasDespite Brazil’s largely successful vaccine program, it is only now that Maré, Rio de Janeiro’s largest complex of favelas, is experiencing mass vaccination against COVID-19. One thousand professionals vaccinated a significant portion of the population. In schools, “health centers” and other sites, these professionals look to vaccinate upwards of 30,000 people between 18 and 34 throughout the community. Organizer planned to give community members the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was produced by the Fiocruz institute.

Why the Vaccination Drive?

This effort is not permanent and cannot indefinitely supply vaccines. A primary goal of the effort is to conduct a study on the effects of mass vaccinations in such a large complex, which is home to widespread “poverty and violence” and often does not reap the same benefits as wealthier areas of Rio. In Maré, which contains 16 favelas, more than half of the inhabitants are under 30.

Maré has seen about 350 deaths since the pandemic began, but reporting difficulties in many other favelas often means that even official counts are artificially low. The study will utilize genomic sequencing to track variants and will seek to understand vaccine efficacy in the face of the virus evolving. Vaccinating Maré’s favelas stands as a novel move. The study’s uniqueness stems from its size, its target population and its location. Since rapid spreading can lead to a rise in variants, using a favela, rather than a hospital or health unit, is beneficial to research into variants.

Maré’s Social Mobilisation

Along with the program, Maré’s greatest strength in responding to the pandemic has been its social mobilization. Campaigns to reduce the number of deaths work through local media, social networks and word of mouth. The NGO Redes da Maré and the Mare Mobilization Front both work to inform and educate the public.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard recorded nearly 7,000 COVID-19-related deaths from nearly 100,000 cases. The dashboard focuses on the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. However, cases and deaths are both underreported, and the Unified Dashboard does not cover every favela, meaning that the actual death toll is doubtlessly much greater. For these reasons and more, vaccinating Maré’s favelas remains a key priority.

Understanding the Dashboard

The dashboard began in April 2020 “when grassroots organizations participating in projects organized by Catalytic Communities (CatComm) began to report cases and deaths in virtual meetings of the Sustainable Favela Network (SFN).” CatComm began a reporting initiative through newspapers and word of mouth from community groups themselves. Other methods included individual outreach for data collection, outreach to local health clinics or through WhatsApp, and analysis of available data when accessible.

The initiative gained traction because of a catalyzing unwillingness by the government to “survey favelas.” The dashboard was officially launched on July 7, 2020, according to its website, and has grown with each new press conference surrounding its progress. Campaigns like #VacinaPraFavelaJá have arisen to promote vaccination and have even enlisted figures like cartoonist Carlos Latuff.

Looking Forward

While the initiation of the vaccine process is a welcome one to many inhabitants of Maré, it has begun only after countless deaths and governmental neglect. The widespread nature and varied methods of the Unified Dashboard have meanwhile shown how collective action can keep communities afloat even in the absence of sufficient governmental intervention. Moreover, with strong community engagement and growing governmental support, vaccinating Maré’s favelas could lead to a more secure and safe future in due time.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Unsplash

historic vaccine rolloutThe African Union (AU) has announced a deal that will send up to 400 million vaccines to 55 member states. The vaccines will go across the African continent in monthly shipments in order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

On August 5, 2021, Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of the Republic of South Africa made this historic vaccine rollout public. He reported that the AU had purchased 220 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in March. A possible 180 million additional vaccines can later be ordered.

How was the deal made?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the African Union joined forces with the World Bank and other organizations to support The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. The team aims to provide rapid access to doses of the vaccine for the people of Africa. The team comprises ten members, including political leaders, health ministers, businessmen and philanthropists from all across Africa.

The World Bank will continue to support the AU in this historic vaccine rollout, supplying resources that will allow individual nations to purchase and distribute the vaccine. Additional assistance will come from the United Nations. UNICEF will assist with delivery and distribution management across the African continent.

Why Johnson & Johnson?

Each of the 400 million doses included in the deal will come from Johnson & Johnson.

The calculus behind this decision was thorough: Since the vaccine comes in a single dose, it is easier and cheaper to produce and administer. Moreover, the vaccine’s relatively long shelf life will ease logistical concerns. A recent study from South Africa reported high efficacy for the single-shot J&J vaccine, with up to 96.2 percent protection against death. The study also reported high protection against both the Delta and Beta variants of COVID-19 in Africa.

The most significant piece of the vaccine deal will take place right at home—part of the vaccine manufacturing process will occur in South Africa. Centralized at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in Gqeberha, South Africa, this insourcing of production will provide new jobs that will, in part, assist with post-pandemic economic recovery.

Where Africa Stands

As a continent, Africa lags behind in vaccination rates, which has placed economic stress on many nations. Vaccination rates also exemplify pandemic inequities that permeate the globe. As of July 23, 2021, only 2.2 percent of the African population has received a dose of any vaccine. In North America, more than half the population has received at least one shot.

These 400 million doses are enough to immunize more than one-third of the African population. At the same time, more work will need to take place in order for the continent to reach its 60% goal as it continues to adapt to and fight against the pandemic.

This new deal to bring in and produce vaccines provides hope that cases and deaths related to COVID-19 in Africa can decrease. It also helps cement the hope that even some of the most impoverished areas in Africa can recover from the pandemic.

Sam Dils
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Vaccine Inequality and VariantsCOVID-19 has displayed the vast interdependence of the world in 2021. The pandemic disrupted global supply chains, highlighted the impact of migration and travel and prompted international coordination on an unprecedented scale. The distribution and administration of vaccines during the pandemic has varied greatly among continents and countries, with high-income countries in Europe and North America inoculating their populations far faster than middle and low-income countries in Africa and Asia. The rapidly spreading Delta variant revealed that vaccination is not just an issue for each independent country. Expanding vaccine access in lower-income countries with large, dense populations in Africa and Asia is necessary for wealthy and impoverished countries alike. COVID-19 discourse under-represents the relationship between vaccine inequality and variants and highlights the need to expand vaccine access to lower-income countries.

Vaccine Inequality in Africa, Asia and Latin America

Vaccine inequality is no more acute than in Africa. As of September 11, 2021, less than 4% of Africans received full doses of COVID-19 vaccines in comparison to more than half of the population in North America. The leading reason for this is drastic inequality in economic power and state capacity. Not only must countries be able to afford the vaccines but they must also have the infrastructure to administer the vaccines. This task is nearly impossible for countries such as Afghanistan, Mali and Myanmar while embroiled in domestic conflict.

Developing countries are mostly reliant on COVAX, the WHO’s initiative to distribute vaccines equitably, which is struggling to provide the number of vaccines it planned to. This is in part a result of wealthy nations ordering millions of vaccines directly from manufacturers, limiting the supply available to the WHO program before it was up and running. Assistance from and coordination with wealthier countries will be necessary in order to increase global vaccination levels before more variants develop.

Vaccine Inequality and Variants

The Delta variant has been the most important development in the global pandemic in recent months. Originating in India, Delta arose at a time when no one received vaccinations. Since then, it has spread around the world and prompted new lockdowns and countermeasures in countries on every continent. With less than 30% of the world fully vaccinated, there is good reason to believe that Delta will not be the last variant of COVID-19 that the world will see and the Lambda (originating in South Africa) and Mu (from Colombia) variants are already making way across borders.

As long as the majority of the world is unvaccinated, there is a worryingly high chance of the COVID-19 virus continuing to mutate. A sufficiently unique strain could potentially render the vaccine ineffective and reignite the pandemic. The Delta variant’s rapid spread across the globe proves that vaccinating just the domestic population will not bring about a certain end to the pandemic. As the most important factor in determining the rate of mutation is the rate of infection, an international agenda focusing on swiftly expanding vaccine access in order to mitigate the threat of future mutations would also best serve the United States.

US Leadership

The topic prompts the discussion of actions the U.S. is taking to rapidly increase global vaccination rates and whether there is room for more effort on the part of the U.S. In May 2021, the Biden administration voiced its support for abrogating the patents of vaccines in order to facilitate their production in lower-income countries and reduce vaccine inequality.

However, the United States does not have unilateral power to waive patents and the World Trade Organization is unlikely to advance this position. Furthermore, many contend that IP waivers are a poor solution to vaccine inequity. Manufacturing vaccines, especially mRNA vaccines, is a difficult and highly technical process with a small margin for error. Countries must also possess the infrastructure to produce vaccines quickly, safely and in large numbers.

It would be ideal if fixing global vaccine access was as simple as waiving patents, but unfortunately, the matter is more complicated. The United States can safeguard its own interest as well as the world’s interests by addressing the economic inequalities forming the root cause of vaccine inequality. Increasing COVAX funding is likely the most effective way in which wealthy countries can help address the global vaccine shortage while addressing the connection between vaccines and variants in the immediate term.

Donating Surplus Stock

Another way that the United States is helping to increase worldwide vaccination is by donating surplus vaccines. By early September 2021, the U.S. had already donated more than 114 million vaccines, making it the “largest donor of COVID-19 vaccines globally.” The U.S. can continue this trend as the country possesses more than 1 billion surplus vaccines, many of which are destined to expire this summer. Millions of people in Africa and Asia would jump at the opportunity of receiving a vaccination if only their country had the supply to meet the demand.

The most cost-effective way to end the global pandemic is to address the causal relationship between vaccine inequality and variants by providing vaccines to those who would be able to obtain them if not for their country’s economic incapacity. Global vaccination is a non-zero-sum game that demands the whole world’s involvement.

Will Pease
Photo: Flickr

Copper face masksThe COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted a lot of countries, specifically in areas like the Americas, Brazil, India and Africa. Africa has especially experienced a surge of positive cases and is struggling in terms of COVID-19 prevention. According to the Milken Institute, while places like North America and Europe are 43.64% and 49.57% fully vaccinated respectively as of September 9, 2021, only 3.28% of Africa’s population are fully vaccinated from the novel coronavirus. Out of more than eight million cases reported in Africa, about 2.84 million cases come from South Africa alone.

Moreover, due to the deadly virus, GDP growth throughout Africa is expected to slow. But, even with these grim consequences, help is on the way from a brilliant company based in South Africa, Copper Fresh. During the pandemic, healthcare experts encourage people to do three things: wash their hands, socially distance when possible and wear a face mask to prevent the spread of the virus. However, Copper Fresh is not developing just ordinary face masks but rather copper face masks.

Copper Fresh

Copper Fresh, a company found in Johannesburg, South Africa, is developing pink copper face masks that will help slow the spread of disease and safeguard people’s health. But, with these specific face masks, it is not just about a color change from blue to pink, it is about the mask material. These masks are made out of copper — the reason why the masks have a light red or darker pink color to them — and because of this, the mask can sanitize itself and kill COVID-19 on its surface.

Benefits of Copper

According to IT News Africa, copper is known to kill a variety of diseases “like MRSA, E.coli, Influenza A as well as norovirus. Moreover, according to the University of Cambridge, “copper and alloys that contain up to 58% copper are effective in killing microbes on furniture and equipment in hospital wards.” While the mask is not fully made out of copper, it has the capability to fend off multiple diseases including COVID-19. Dean Lazarus, a co-founder of the company, explains how these copper face masks beat a normal blue medical mask. “[Copper Fresh] mask kills viruses and bacteria. Whereas your traditional blue mask doesn’t. So, if you take your mask off and then put it back on again, you are still carrying the virus with you,” states Lazarus.

According to Business Insider, Copper Fresh partners with Israel-based MedCu Technologies, a company that makes “fabric infused with copper oxide for paramedics to dress wounds at accident scenes.” This fabric is made by mixing together cloth and copper oxide, which is done by placing copper oxide into the fabric at a “microscopic level on a conveyer belt system.” This new fabric then ships to Johannesburg, where Copper Fresh produces the masks.

Hope Amid COVID-19

Due to the socioeconomic consequences of COVID-19, the chances of households moving into poverty are greatly increasing. The risk of falling into transient poverty is increasing by 17% while long-term poverty is increasing by 4%. The chance of escaping poverty has decreased by more than 5%, according to the Milken Institute.

Now, thanks to Copper Fresh and its innovative new face masks, Africa is one step closer to lessening the number of new COVID-19 cases and helping people rise out of poverty. Not many people would think a mask that has an “N95 filter between two sheets of the copper material” would be so beneficial, but Copper Fresh is ambitiously proving this possible. With almost 50,000 masks made per day selling at R25 each, or just less than $2, plenty of Africans can benefit from this revolutionary technology. Copper Fresh masks symbolize more than just protection — they inspire hope.

– Matt Orth
Photo: Unsplash