The COVID19 pandemic will not end while vaccine inequity continues

Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
16 December 2021
Over 8.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, with 55.3% of the world's population having received at least one dose of a vaccine. When broken down by country income groups, only 6.3% of people living in low-income countries have received even one dose of a vaccine.

This inequity is completely unacceptable - leaving millions of people vulnerable, increasing the fragility of economies, and plunging people into poverty. The COVID19 pandemic will not end while vaccine equity continues to be ignored. The Omicron variant is our latest reminder that the lack of a unified global response is making the pandemic worse – for everyone.

Governments everywhere must work together, fast, for fair and equitable access for every country. The NewNow is a global group of rising leaders, working together to drive change through collective Vaccine action. Many of the group’s leaders come from countries bearing the brunt of the pandemic due to vaccine inequality.

The NewNow recently convened to discuss issues surrounding vaccine equity, what they’ve learnt from the pressures of the pandemic, and which solutions they believe will best move the world toward equitable vaccine access.


As each NewNow leader spoke about their story, and the inequities that have been reverberating through their communities, it was clear that behind each unique hardship was a common need for transparent and equitable treatment – so that no one is left behind. Their experiences echoed the findings in the IPPPR’s COVID-19 report: “Vaccine distribution is blatantly unjust and not strategic. Vaccine variants are emerging as SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and ever new ones are possible. The burden on people and nations is intolerable."

Allowing present vaccine inequities to persist will cost lives and cost the global economy trillions. We need courageous, considered, and coordinated action – guided by the voices of leaders on the ground.

Victor Ochen is a youth advocate, the youngest African to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, founder of African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) and member of The NewNow. Victor and his Ugandan-based colleagues have seen vaccine access shortcomings first-hand, with much centring around power and status as businessmen and members of parliament are prioritised over the rest of the population.

According to Victor, people working on the frontline throughout the pandemic are still a long way off receiving a vaccine. “Without being fully vaccinated, no African is eligible for a Visa, and therefore cannot travel anywhere outside the continent. Anxiety levels are high as governments implement further restrictions and restrict access for non-vaccinated citizens. Global and national policies are now just reinforcing the pre-existing inequality and discrimination,” said Victor.

Jaha Dukureh is a NewNow leader, a pioneering women’s rights activist, anti-FGM campaigner and founder of Safe Hands for Girls (SH4G). SH4G launched an emergency initiative in response to COVID-19 as it increased dangers posed to young women in Africa.

The New Now
The New Now

The pandemic tragically exposed young women and girls in SH4G’s programme to more violence and risk of FGM, with many communities taking advantage of the pandemic to put women into forced marriages “under the radar”. In response, Safe Hands for Girls developed a hotline that people could call anonymously to report what was happening in the community. This allowed SH4G to track activity – gaining government support and public endorsement of the hotline. “The societal impacts of COVID-19 brought on by increased living restrictions and lockdown measures have been especially tragic for vulnerable women. These problems cannot be treated as an afterthought and must be tackled in conjunction with each country’s medical and economic response,” said Jaha.

In alignment with the sentiments expressed by NewNow leaders, the IPPPR report has stated that we must simultaneously act on COVID-19, learn from this crisis, and plan for the next one. COVID-19 has been a terrible wake-up call - so now the world needs to commit to clear targets, additional resources, new measures, and strong leadership to prepare for the future.

As stressed by NewNow leader, Abdalaziz Alhamza: “Myths about the pandemic and about vaccines must be dispelled. We cannot get complacent. Together we must address the coordinated misinformation campaigns that threaten our pathway out of the pandemic."

Abdalaziz is a Syrian journalist, human rights defender, co-founder and spokesperson of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS). Aziz and his colleagues have experienced challenges around vaccine access in countries in conflict and noted that the situation in Syria has been worsening day by day, with COVID-19 exacerbating existing challenges. “Many in Syria are still not taking the pandemic seriously and there has been a huge effort to educate many who have been ignoring all rules and regulations,” said Abdalaziz.

RBSS has used its platform to host local doctors to speak to communities and help to educate locals. It has also translated language from materials published by organisations such as the World Health Organisation into a more clear, simple case for people to understand and digest.

This is the time for a new Global Health Order and The NewNow is calling on global leaders to commit to stepping up to end vaccine inequity, to invest in health infrastructure, and to stop harming vulnerable economies through unfair travel restrictions.

No one will be safe until everyone is safe.