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2021 Debate Insights

Absorbing the Covid shock: Mitigating the socio-economic impact of the pandemic

Author: Sciences Po student Lydia Jayakumar summarizes the debate session of the fourth edition of the Paris Peace Forum

Date: 11 November 2021


Absorbing the Covid shock: Mitigating the socio-economic impact of the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has created and exacerbated an inexhaustible list of socio-economic problems in the world. With a death toll exceeding 4.5 million, it has destroyed lives, livelihoods, communities and worsened pre-existing inequalities. Within this context, the panel on ‘Absorbing the Covid shock: Mitigating the socio-economic impact of the pandemic’ was held at the 2021 Paris Peace Forum. While the virus affected every part of the earth, it is clear that the impact has not been equal. As Melinda French Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation stated at the start of the panel, “This pandemic has not hit countries equally. Rich countries were able to stimulate their economies and bounce back”. For many countries, however, this was not an option.

The socio-economic impact has been vast, however, the discussions during the panel kept coming back to the most glaring inequity of all, which is the current inequity in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. The WHO called the ‘global failure to share vaccines’ a major concern, this failure took its toll on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. They had set the target for all countries to vaccinate 10% of their populations by the end of September 2021, however, over 50 countries, most of whom were excluded from the global vaccine marketplace, were not able to reach this target. Even a year into the pandemic we are still steep in vaccine inequity. Many of the world’s richest countries are hoarding vaccines, in numbers enough to vaccinate their countries many times over. This hoarding by high-income countries, paired with export and production delays and slow in-country rollouts has led to the discrepancy in vaccine coverage around the world. The low vaccination rate in lower income countries, mostly in the global South, has left their population unprotected to the newer Covid-19 variants.

Another reason for the delays and restrictions in vaccine production and distribution has to do with intellectual property rights on medical innovation. Multiple Covid-19 vaccines were developed in collaborative efforts among different sectors, including public health agencies and university laboratories. However, proposals to increase and spread manufacturing through the voluntary sharing of intellectual property or a temporary waiver on certain provisions of WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) were opposed by many high-income countries.  Referring to the intellectual property issue, Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation noted, “We are going to need to reconsider the IP regime that prevents production of much needed vaccines in countries where there is production capacity, like India and South Africa. In fact, it was a shame that some of the earliest vaccines produced in South Africa went to Europe instead of the African continent”.

The impact of the slow vaccine rollout goes much further than health. The education sector for instance is seeing the dire impact of students not being able to attend in person school for over a year. Learning outcomes and school retention has seen a fall in many countries. Erias Lukwago, Lord Mayor of Kampala, Uganda, and Founding Leadership Board Member of the

The Mayor’s Migration Council spoke from his own country’s experience on education during Covid-19, he noted “We are in the process of opening up the country, right now we are still in lockdown, our schools are still not open. UNESCO stated that all schools should be open, but here schools are still not open. But in Uganda, for over 2 years, the schools are still closed. We have 15 million learners, but we are yet to vaccinate even a quarter of those 15 million simply because the vaccines are not there”.

Vaccine inequity is an injustice that is rooted in pre-existing socio-economic, which Covid-19 has laid bare. Walker called for leadership and holding to account countries of the G7, “We require moral leadership for this moral imperative of reducing inequality, especially vaccine inequity. There are inequalities in the system itself of vaccine financing and financing in general. It is designed in a way that seems to repeat these patterns of debt for countries in the global South”. Forest Whitaker, Founder and CEO Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) called not only for leadership but for collective action can be mobilized, “Anytime we go into the field the first thing that happens is partnerships. Partnership is the first thing that needs to happen in order to build on the ground.” Walker used Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s conception of philanthropy while concluding, “What Dr. King says about the work of philanthropy is that it is not just charity and generosity, but it must be justice and dignity. We in the north must reconsider how we have designed a system that subordinates those closest to the challenges. In order to be effective and solve these problems, we need to listen and give credibility to the lived experiences of those closest to the challenges, so we can redesign”.

Contribution by Lydia Jayakumar 

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