We don’t need the answer to those questions, however, to know the mistake the rich world is already making in treating Covid-19 as a pathogen that’s already been defeated by its own high rates of vaccine coverage. While the likes of China, Japan, France, Italy, South Korea and Canada can boast that three-quarters of their populations are fully immunized, 110 of the 200 countries and territories for which Bloomberg has data are shy of 50% (the U.S., at 59%, has one of the worst records in the developed world). Of that number, 64 haven’t even reached 25%, including South Africa itself. India, at 31%, and Russia at 37% aren’t doing much better. Of the 37 nations with less than 10% fully protected, 32 are in sub-Saharan Africa.
That yawning gap is being driven by the glacial pace at which pharmaceutical companies in the rich nations where drugs have been developed have been sharing their intellectual property with generics producers in emerging economies. While the U.S. decision in May to waive IP rules around Covid-19 drugs was a major step toward addressing that problem, European opposition and a lack of compulsion from governments have failed to produce the change needed to increase supplies.