Many of us are excitedly and not-so-patiently waiting for our COVID-19 vaccine appointments. With plans to have all U.S. citizens eligible for vaccines by May 1, we can finally see a light at the end of this long tunnel.

Everyone deserves access to this life-saving medical care. However, our experience in the U.S. vastly differs from that of low-income countries.

The pandemic has highlighted so many global inequities that our Charity Alliance members were already fighting against. Access to vital needs like health care, medical supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), clean water and so much more is regularly limited for vulnerable populations. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought yet another long-standing issue to light – vaccine access.

Vaccines in low-income countries
Here are the facts: 38 million doses of vaccines have been distributed to 98 countries so far. That leaves 92 countries that haven’t received a single dose – meaning, at this point, only 14% of the world’s population has access to over 50% of the vaccines.

Estimates show that 9 out of 10 people in low-income countries won’t even have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.

Pharmaceutical companies own the rights to the vaccines they develop, and they can set the price and sell to countries as they choose. This tips the scales in favor of the wealthiest countries, who have the advantage of affording to buy vaccine doses first. As long as the knowledge and technology to mass produce COVID-19 vaccines is withheld from the global community, the uneven distribution of vaccines will continue.

If governments and the private sector can come together and make vaccines available to all, our charity partners are ready to address the serious inequities in the vaccine rollout. They are regularly on the front lines of disease outbreaks and have extensive experience in the production, transportation, storage and distribution of medical supplies like vaccines.

A group of five health care workers wearing personal protective equipment.

Preparing for the global vaccine rollout
Our global health charities are doers. They deeply understand the challenges of this pandemic, and from day one, they have been thinking about what a successful global vaccine rollout requires. Ultimate multitaskers that they are, they’ve been working with governments, multilateral institutions, philanthropists and civil society to address vaccine access. At the same time, they’ve also been proactively thinking about health systems in the countries they serve to determine their needs once the vaccines arrive.

To give you a glimpse into what this massive, global preparation looks like, here are a few of the charity partners setting us up for a year of record-breaking vaccination campaigns:

  • As you read this article, UNICEF USA is busy shipping supplies and coordinating the 2021 distribution of 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines across 92 low- and middle-income countries. Before the vaccines are shipped, UNICEF USA is working quickly to pre-position supplies like syringes and cold storage units so shots can be administered as quickly as possible. They are the key delivery partner for COVAX, the world’s largest and fastest immunization campaign in history. COVAX is a global platform that allows countries to pool resources and negotiate vaccine prices together, so no country is turned away because of their inability to pay. Keep an eye out for this lifesaving alliance in your news feed, as more COVID-19 vaccines get approved and global production accelerates!

  • Since January of this year alone, Direct Relief has sent medical supplies to nearly 1,500 partner organizations in 68 countries. So, it came as no surprise when they announced that they were tripling their medical refrigeration and freezer capacity to expand their COVID-19 vaccine storage capacity (they can already hold 40 million doses.) Their work to distribute large quantities of PPE, ventilators, oxygen concentrators, vaccine refrigerators and other medical equipment is helping health centers around the world prepare to deliver vaccines and improve health outcomes for many low-income populations. Knowing that policymakers and public health experts need to address gaps in communication and ensure communities are willing to take vaccines, they also launched a tracker that records global vaccine acceptance rates.

Screenshot of Direct Relief's tracker

  • Gates Philanthropy Partners has made critical investments in vaccine research and development with the help of their Combatting COVID-19 Fund, developing diagnostic tools and providing other support during the pandemic. Another COVAX partner, the Gates Foundation is working with private sector partners to expand vaccine access in low-income countries and financing manufacturing sites to help increase production and deliver as many vaccinations as quickly as possible.

These aren’t the only charities producing such impressive work. Our leading international Charity Alliance is made up of many innovative and experienced global health leaders who have been tirelessly using their knowledge and expertise to address COVID-19 in the most vulnerable communities. Below is a list of additional charity partners who are calling attention to the unbalanced vaccine rollout and are actively preparing to deliver this critical medical care:

A young girl getting a vaccine.

Ways you can help the fair, equitable global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines
Next week is World Immunization Week, and we’re inviting everyone to celebrate with us this year. How? By taking a moment to put what you’ve learned into action. Together we can increase global access to the COVID-19 vaccine and work toward a safer and more normal world.

  • Give to the COVID-19 Relief Fund. It’s a quick and easy way to directly support charities working on the frontlines of the pandemic and ensuring vaccine supplies for everyone.
  • Take action with the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of many international nonprofits that are seeking equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Download this one-pager on charities involved in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and share with your colleagues, friends and family.

It’s going to take a lot of work to get vaccines to individuals free of charge, ensure equitable access for all, and fairly allocate supplies to the highest risk communities.

Remember – it’s not over yet. We have to recommit to our fight against COVID-19 now – and we can’t forget about our global neighbors in the process.