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A health worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine dose

A medical worker prepares a dose of Covid-19 vaccine in Algiers, Algeria on January 17, 2022. (Photo: Xinhua via Getty Images)

For Fraction of Pentagon Budget, World Could Prevent 1.5 Million Covid Deaths

"President Biden has the opportunity to save a million lives if he were to launch a serious global vaccine manufacturing and delivery programs," said one of the authors of a new study.

Jake Johnson

A research paper published Thursday estimates that providing three coronavirus vaccine doses to every person in low- and lower-middle-income countries would prevent over a million deaths for the cost of $61 billion—a fraction of the $778 billion U.S. military budget for fiscal year 2022.

"We have more than one million reasons to vaccinate the world."

"While almost 60% of the world has received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, the global distribution of vaccination has not been equitable," a group of experts from Yale, Brown, Stanford, the University of Maryland, and the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen wrote in their study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

"Only 4% of the population of low-income countries has received a full primary vaccine series, compared to over 70% of the population of high-income nations," the researchers note. "Global scale-up of vaccination to provide two doses of mRNA vaccine to everyone in [low- and lower-middle-income countries] would cost $35.5 billion and avert 1.3 million deaths from Covid-19, at a cost of $26,900 per death averted."

Adding a booster dose to the equation would increase the price tag of the vaccination scale-up to $61.2 billion while saving 1.5 million lives, "a cost of $40,800 per death averted," they found.

"We have more than one million reasons to vaccinate the world," Zain Rizvi, a research director at Public Citizen and one of the authors of the new study, said in a statement. "The Biden administration can seize this historic opportunity to save lives, fuel the economic recovery, and protect Americans from the risk of new variants."

Alexandra Savinkina, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Public Health and lead author of the analysis, said "it's imperative" that ramping up vaccinations in lower-income countries "is a global priority for 2022."

“This analysis shows that global vaccination can be undertaken for a fraction of the trillions of dollars already spent on the Covid-19 response," she added.

Two years into the global pandemic, more than 11,000 people around the world are dying each day on average despite the creation of highly effective vaccines and the recent emergence of promising antiviral treatments.

Experts argue that a major reason the pandemic continues to rage—and that new coronavirus variants continue to sprout up—is that so much of the world has been denied access to vaccines by rich governments and pharmaceutical companies, which have hoarded doses and refused to share key technology with developing countries.

Instead of helping low-income nations develop their own vaccines, rich countries have donated surplus doses through Covax—a United Nations-backed initiative that is now out of money—and negotiated bilateral deals that experts have decried as badly inadequate.

"We can count in people's lives the consequences of continuing to do the minimum, instead of what is needed," Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen, said Thursday.

Achieving truly equitable access to vaccines worldwide, argued Maybarduk, "will require a more ambitious effort than the Biden administration and other governments so far have offered; far more funding and leadership sharing and delivering medical technology."

A separate study released last month calculated that the world needs roughly 22 billion additional mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine doses to overcome the current wave of infections and ward off future mutations.

The authors of that analysis also warned production targets from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—the makers of the two available mRNA shots—are well below what's needed to finally end the pandemic, indicating a dire need for government action to ramp up vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

Speaking to the Washington Post on Thursday, Rizvi argued that inadequate global vaccine production should be a "wake-up call" for the Biden administration, which has promised to make the U.S. "an arsenal of vaccines for the world."

"President [Joe] Biden," said Rizvi, "has the opportunity to save a million lives if he were to launch a serious global vaccine manufacturing and delivery programs."

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