While many of us in the U.S. are starting to see life get back to normal COVID-19 is still raging around the world. With new contagious strains like the delta variant — which may be twice as transmissible — the pandemic is far from over. Some countries are seeing record-level caseloads and deaths.
The good news is that most of the current vaccines seem to be effective against the delta variant. The bad news: In many places, the vaccines are running out.
While low-income countries are receiving vaccines through the global sharing initiative COVAX, the World Health Organization says many countries do not have enough doses. Nowhere near enough, in fact.
COVAX, which is an abbreviation for COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, was created in 2020 to make sure vaccines were made available around the world. As of late June 2021, the program has delivered 90 million doses to 131 countries.
The U.S. has already allocated 80 million vaccines to other countries, and recently the Biden administration promised to provide tens of millions more this summer. According to the White House, at least 75% of the vaccines would be shared with COVAX and 25% would go directly to countries that need them.
But it’s still not enough.
Let’s look at the African continent, which is now facing its third surge of the virus. COVAX promised to meet 20% of Africa’s vaccine needs by delivering 700 million doses to the continent by December 2021. But only 65 million doses had arrived by the end of June (with only 50 million coming from COVAX). Many people have only been able to receive the first dose. Meanwhile, the WHO says cases numbers are doubling in Africa every three weeks.
And then there’s the unique situation in India. Although it is home to the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, only about 4% of Indians are fully vaccinated. The deadly second wave of COVID-19 hit the country before it had ordered enough doses for itself. And now there’s fear of a third wave.
So, what does this global vaccine divide mean?
It means more inequality. While some of us will be protected from COVID-19, the more vulnerable citizens of the world won’t be vaccinated for a while. As we’re seeing offices and schools reopen, and economies and health care systems get back on track, things could be difficult for much longer in low-income countries.
And if vaccinations take too long, COVID-19 could become endemic in some communities (meaning the disease would have a constant presence there, like malaria in parts of Africa).
This is not good news for gender equality. Adolescent girls around the world are already being set back by the pandemic. They’re now at higher risk for gender-based violence, child marriage and never returning to school.
Cloidia, in Mozambique, is out of school and stuck at home. Because of the drought in her community, schools were one of the few places children could find nutritious food.
“Now that I do not eat at school, everything is difficult to do because I am always hungry,” Cloidia told us. “I have to wake up early to clean the house, go fetch water far away and bathe my brothers.”
For another girl named Meghla, who lives in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh, staying healthy is tough enough as is it — the refugee camp is crowded, and clean water and soap are luxury items. And as if girls there weren’t facing enough challenges, they’re now even more susceptible to violence, trafficking, child labor and early marriage.
“I can’t sleep well now,” Meghla told us when the pandemic started. “I am always in fear and worried that my loved ones might be affected by the virus. I heard about a child marriage incident recently. I tried to stop it and informed the local authorities, but they couldn’t respond in time due to the lockdown.”
Over in Paraguay, girls like Florencia are living through an economic nightmare. Florencia lives with her grandparents, and since their business has closed because of the pandemic, they’re trying to make a living by selling face masks and growing medical plants.
“I don’t feel so good because I’m worried about the economic situation of my family and of my community,” Florencia said. “Many people no longer have a job or food to give to their children.”
How we manage the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is important — for girls, for vulnerable communities and for all of us, if we want to see COVID-19 gone for good.
In the meantime, Plan International USA is working in communities around the world, keeping children healthy and fighting the setbacks from the pandemic. Because we can’t let millions of girls like Cloidia, Meghla and Florencia be left behind.