Cheaper To Fund Global Vaccines Than Suffer Economic Pandemic Fallout, Finds Study
The economic cost to the world’s advanced economies in the absence of global vaccine access could be up to US$5 trillion, a report has found, compared to the $38 billion cost of funding WHO’s ACT Accelerator.

Wealthy countries that pursue ‘vaccine nationalism’ when their trading partners don’t have access to the COVID-19 vaccine will pay a far higher economic price than if they invest in ensuring all countries have access to vaccines, according to a comprehensive economic modelling study released today by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The study, commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Research Foundation, projects that the economic cost to the world’s advanced economies in the absence of global vaccine access could be up to US$5 trillion.

In contrast, the entire cost of funding the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, the WHO-led global platform to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, is $38 billion.

“Strikingly, a $27.2 billion investment on the part of advanced economies – the current funding shortfall to fully capitalize the ACT Accelerator and its vaccine pillar COVAX – is capable of generating returns as high as 166x the investment,” according to the ICC.

The researchers looked at the production and trade networks of 65 countries across 35 sectors, modelling three different vaccine access and lockdown scenarios. They concluded that the global loss to GDP if vaccines are not widely available “is higher than the cost of manufacturing and distributing vaccines globally”.

“Our estimates suggest that up to 49 percent of the global economic costs of the pandemic in 2021 are borne by the advanced economies even if they achieve universal vaccination in their own countries,” states the report, which was produced by the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

The study explains that the advanced economies are “tightly connected to unvaccinated trading partners which consist of a large number of emerging markets and developing economies”.

“Thus, the devastating economic conditions in these countries under the ongoing pandemic can cause a non-negligible drag on the advanced economies as well,” according to the study.

Demand for goods would fall in countries badly affected, and their production capacity would be weakened, thus affecting their ability to supply goods and materials needed by advanced economies.

Ṣebnem Kalemli-Özcan, Professor of Economics and Finance at the University of Maryland and an author of the report, said: “No economy can fully recover until we have global equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. The path we are on leads to less growth, more deaths, and a longer economic recovery.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General.

Meanwhile, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “this research shows a potentially catastrophic economic failure”.

“The progress made by the ACT Accelerator shows solidarity in beating this virus. The longer we wait to provide vaccines, tests, and treatments to all countries, the faster the virus will take hold, the potential for more variants will emerge, the greater the chance today’s vaccines could become ineffective, and the harder it will be for all countries to recover. Truly, no-one is safe until everyone is safe.”

ICC Secretary General John WH Denton added that the research shows that  “ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines is not only the right thing to do – to do otherwise is economically irresponsible. International business needs a fully funded ACT Accelerator”.

“This is not an act of charity. This is economic common sense,” said Denton. “If you want to ensure a durable recovery in your economies, you need to step up and actually pay up.”

Countries with open economies stand to lose the most, particularly Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the US, “who might lose up to 3.9% of their GDPs”.

“No economy is an island,” the report concluded, paraphrasing the John Donne poem. “The economic losses of the pandemic can only be mitigated through a multilateral coordination ensuring the equitable access of vaccines, tests and therapeutics.”

COVAX Deal With Pfizer Is Small But ‘Opens the Door’

Meanwhile, WHO Special Advisor Dr Bruce Aylward defended a small 40 million COVAX deal reached with Pfizer, which had been announced on Friday. The European Union has reserved 600 million doses, with the US securing 200 million.

Alyward said the small number was “a start”, but that the Pfizer vaccine was already recommended by WHO “so this could be launched very, very rapidly and earlier possibly than some of the other products”.

45 out of 50 of the countries rolling out COVID-19 vaccines are using the Pfizer vaccine.

“45 out of 50 of the countries rolling out vaccines are using the Pfizer vaccine,” said Aylward. “Even with a relatively small number of doses …  it was clear that we could make a real difference in protecting some of the most highly exposed, highly at risk health care workers, particularly in some of the [low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)] that the facility serves.

“The other big advantage by putting the framework agreement in place, is that we can then open the door to donations in a much more potentially seamless manner with other countries that currently have contracts with and substantial quantities of the Pfizer vaccine.”

Rapid COVID Tests Ensured For LMICs As Costs Halved

Fragile health systems, remote or decentralised populations, and reliance on global provision in LMICs have created obtrusive barriers to achieving mass rapid testing for SARS-CoV-2.

However, more than 250 million antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests (Ag RDTs) will be made available to LMICs for approximately US$2.50 each following a July 2020 call for interest.

The open call for Expressions of Interest (EOI) was launched by Unitaid — a WHO partner — and global nonprofit Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), on behalf of the ACT-Accelerator: WHO’s platform for providing equitable COVID medicines and treatments

Up to 120 million tests will be produced by Premier Medical Corporation, India, in 2021, with a further 130 million tests secured through other, unannounced agreements.

The ACT-Accelerator has estimated that 500 million COVID tests will be needed in LMICs over the next 12 months, with three-quarters necessarily deployed via primary health care.

Image Credits: WHO Afro region, WHO, Pfizer.

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