This official side event at the 9th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) discussed vaccine inequality and the lack of social protection mechanisms among the women and marginalized communities and discussed the way forward linking to the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs.
The Omicron variant of the Coronavirus, though milder, has spread in lightning speed affecting a large populace in a short span. The need of hospitalization is less, but the pressure on the health system has well been witnessed in the rich, middle and low-income countries. The rich countries in Europe are now administering the booster doses to their people while the Asia the countries are far from full vaccination of its people due to lack of vaccine availability. The artificial shortage of vaccines created by monopolising the technology has resulted in the mutation of the virus in regular intervals and affecting humanity. It’s very clear that even if the people in rich countries are fully vaccinated, they remain vulnerable. The proof is the scale at which France, Germany, UK and other European countries, where the vaccination rate is quite high, have been engulfed by the Omicron variant. The situation endorses the slogan of World Health Organisation (WHO) and the CSOs fighting for vaccine equality including GCAP, People’s Vaccine Alliance and others, that “No one is safe, till everyone is safe”. The rich countries like the UK and European Union have been blocking the demand for a TRIPS waiver of the Covid vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics by coming under the pressure of the greedy Pharma companies, thus endangering the lives of people in low and middle-income countries, so also in rich countries.
While the global supply of vaccines is discriminatory and unequal creating a north-south divide, studies and observations in Asia countries suggest the discrimination in vaccination among the marginalised groups including women, indigenous communities, transgender communities, migrants, and communities discriminated by work and descent (CDWD), persons with disabilities (PwD) and there is also a rural and urban divide. In Bangladesh and Pakistan, there are gender gaps (SDG 3 & 5) in vaccination, the migrant communities receive less vaccination in Thailand and there exist rural and urban divide in India. This has impacted their livelihood too.
The irony is that during the pandemic, inequality has risen. There has been a lackadaisical approach by the governments to social protection of the poorest and marginalised communities. In India for example, the income of the billionaires doubled during the pandemic times whereas 46 million people slid below the poverty line during the same time. All around one witnesses the poverty increasing, therefore it’s important to look at how governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to not ensure basic survival for the poor and vulnerable.