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The world can't wait

Tearfund’s News Editor investigates global vaccine inequality and the part we can all play in avoiding a catastrophic moral failure.

Written by Andrew Horton | 19 Feb 2021

Covid-19 vaccine being prepared. Photo credit: Mufid Majnun/Unsplash

As early as March 2020 world leaders were discussing the importance of developing a vaccine for Covid-19. At a G20 summit they declared: ‘All new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for the coronavirus need to be globally available, appropriate, and affordable.’

Almost a year later, those statements have not borne the fruit they promised. Richer nations have been able to choose how quickly to begin vaccination, whereas many low-income countries will have to wait for over a year before they will have any chance of starting.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, pledged at the G7 conference this week to donate surplus vaccine supplies to low-income countries.

More than 400 million vaccine doses have been ordered by the UK government, meaning many will be left over after all adults are vaccinated.

But this pledge, while very welcome, doesn't go far enough and isn’t going to solve the problem alone.

There needs to be more vaccines produced and available everywhere, to everyone. The UK also needs to urge pharmaceutical companies to share the technology, knowhow and intellectual property that goes into creating the vaccines.

Missing out

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, of which Tearfund is a member, estimates nine out of ten people in 70 low-income countries are set to miss out on a Covid-19 vaccine this year.

In January, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: ‘Even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots. The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure.’

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, went further calling it ‘a global vaccine apartheid’.

Hebdavi Muhindo, Tearfund's Country Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), says they are seeing the impact of this inequality:

‘No life should be lost because of the unfair distribution of vaccines. No-one should be left behind because they or their country can't afford the vaccine. The most vulnerable people are in the countries with broken health systems.

‘We need to fight this pandemic as a global nation because, as we know, if Covid-19 remains anywhere, it threatens the whole world. If we're not in this battle together, there can be no victory at all.’ 

Sadly, there is no vaccine against this inequality. It is an injustice. And millions of people’s lives are at stake. The world should not be divided by our access to a Covid-19 vaccine.


None of us are safe from this pandemic until all of us are safe. The development and fair distribution of tests, treatments and vaccines is urgent.

The coronavirus pandemic has illuminated both our resilience and our vulnerability – we’ve seen just how fragile our societies, our democracies and our economies can be when put under pressure.

But in 2020 we came together to fight coronavirus and the destruction to lives and communities it left in its path. Millions of us answered the calls of the late Captain Sir Tom Moore and 23-year-old footballer, Marcus Rashford.

For our NHS, for our children, for each other – we showed up when it counted. We saw what is possible when we put people and the planet first.

Now, in 2021, we have opportunities to build on that momentum, making this a year of renewal and recovery – both here at home and around the world. 

A pressing issue

Later this year, world leaders will come to the UK for summits bringing together the world’s richest democracies (the G7 meeting) and almost every government in the world (at the COP26 UN climate talks).

It’s these leaders that we need to press to tackle the looming moral catastrophe. We are also calling on pharmaceutical companies to share how their vaccines are made, to enable mass production globally.

‘Rich countries have enough doses to vaccinate everyone nearly three times over, whilst poor countries don’t even have enough to reach health workers and people at risk,’ says Dr Mohga Kamal Yanni, from the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

Working through the local church, Tearfund remains on the ground in more than 50 countries alongside people in the greatest need. Whilst we are not distributing vaccines, we are continuing to identify and support the most vulnerable before, during, and after vaccines become available.

The local faith leaders we work with also play an invaluable role in countering the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines in their communities.

Hebdavi Muhindo says church and faith leaders around the world have an essential role to play:

‘The DRC is still reeling from recent Ebola and Measles outbreaks, which together killed thousands of people. Faith leaders played a crucial role in dispelling myths and stigma around vaccines, saving countless lives.

‘The official figures for Covid-19 seem low but we are seeing evidence that the numbers are much higher. We urgently need support to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and reassure people about the vaccine.’

Your gift could support families whose hope for receiving a vaccine is still far off. Please help us continue to reach the poorest communities who are suffering from the devastating economic and health effects of this virus.

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Written by

Written by  Andrew Horton

Andrew is Online News and Film Editor for Tearfund. This involves finding and writing up inspiring articles for the website, and capturing compelling stories on video.

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