Milestones :: Perspectives :: Research
Statement on COVID-19 Immunization and Equitable Access to Vaccines
WFPHA: World Federation of Public Health Associations
Dec 17, 2020
The Global Taskforce of the WFPHA understands the importance of equity as a determinant
of health outcomes and is concerned that the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines may not be
done on an equitable basis.
Immunisation is one of the most successful public health measures. According to a World
Health Organization report on the prevention of infectious diseases, it is second only to clean
water as a preventive health measure (WHO 2008). Annually immunisation prevents an
estimated 2.5 million deaths globally and considerably reduces disease-specific treatment
costs (WHO 2018).
For all the devastation caused by COVID-19, an important lesson is that the balance needs to
shift from treating disease to preventing it. Immunisation has an important role to play in
prevention not only for infants but throughout life as a key component of healthy ageing. It
saves, prolongs and improves the quality of lives. At the same time, by saving time and other
resources, immunisation leads to sustainable healthcare systems (UK Chief Medical Officers’
Guidelines 2011). Additionally, immunisation has positive long-term impacts, contributing to
make communities healthier and promoting social and economic development.
GAVI, WHO and UNICEF have warned that 80 million children under the age of one are at
risk of disease due to disruptions to vital immunisation programmes because of COVID-19
(GAVI 2020a). Specific to COVID-19, almost everyone is at risk and may require vaccination
if given the opportunity. Hence, it is likely that demand will surpass supply. The concern of
the WFPHA Immunisation Taskforce is the tendency for the rich to acquire and pay for the
limited supply of available efficacious vaccines to the detriment of the populations genuinely
at-risk, particularly in low-income settings.
COVID-19 Vaccines and Information
Not surprisingly, the race to produce a safe and efficacious vaccine for COVID-19 has been
on-going and early distribution in the United Kingdom and the United States indicates
success may not be too far away. In the course of immunisation programs, member states
need to tirelessly work to ensure that all information with respect to vaccine distribution is
stored in secure, audited and updated immunisation information systems. This promotes
central reporting, transparency, equitable distribution across the population and informed
decisions leaving no one behind.
An important lesson from previous immunisation programs is that, even when effective and
safe vaccines are available, vulnerable persons in low-income settings usually do not have
access to these vaccines for some time, if at all. There is a myriad of reasons for this state of
affairs. These include (among others) high cost of vaccination programmes for countries,
health systems, families and individual, individual’s poor geographical access to vaccination
centres, and inadequate supply of available vaccines due to competition.
The Global Immunisation Taskforce of the WFPHA supports the efforts of COVAX, a global
collaboration of governments, global health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, private
sector, civil society and philanthropy, in its aim for a global solution to this pandemic by
ensuring equitable access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines to all countries no matter
their wealth (GAVI 2020b).
Therefore, the WFPHA Global Immunisation Taskforce recommends:
1. The international community should continue the process of collaboration to support research and development of effective COVID-19 vaccines from multiple centres
2. The international community should establish a COVID-19 vaccination fund to support needy but resource-constrained countries
3. Support for the World Health Organization in its efforts to coordinate the response to COVID-19 and in the development of an appropriate vaccine
4. National authorities financially support the WHO and invest in strengthening national health systems with a particular focus on sustainable immunisation programs
5. Support for COVAX in its efforts to ensure equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world with special focus on vulnerable populations, particularly in resource-constrained countries.