The case for speeding up the jab

By Alfred Montufar-Helu, Beijing Director

One of the biggest risks we see for the recovery of the global economy is the slow pace of vaccine distribution. The longer it takes to control the pandemic and inoculate the population across all countries, the more likely it is for new and stronger variants of the virus to emerge.  This could render the current vaccines efforts ineffective and lead to additional restrictive measures, more state support and higher indebtedness.

To make matters worse, leaders across some of the most affected countries are now balancing the need to maintain lockdowns with perceived public fatigue. It could be said that, after so many months of trial and error, authorities are now more able to implement targeted measures that are not as disruptive to the economy. But the reality is that Covid-19 continues to mutate and spread around the world.

The cost in terms of human life is disheartening. As explained in a recent article by The Economist (see here), the total number of fatalities caused by the pandemic is higher than reported for several reasons. One of them, which is already widely reported, is that official statistics in many countries exclude victims who did not test positive for Covid-19 before dying – which can be a substantial majority in places with little capacity for testing. A second reason is that hospitals and civil registries may not process death certificates for several days, or even weeks, which creates lags in the data. And we must also consider the indirect victims: the pandemic has made it harder for doctors to treat other conditions and discouraged people from going to hospital, which means that fatalities from diseases other than Covid-19 have risen.

Against this backdrop we are now hearing more and more about vaccine nationalism – Italy’s decision to block a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines out the EU has been making the headlines, in great part because of the precedent it has set. And French authorities have declared they could do the same (see here).

Here in China things are much better – just check out the below chart. As I am typing these words at my apartment, I cannot help but feel a sense of relief, especially when considering what is currently happening in Mexico, my home country.

And yet, as one of the speakers at our Asia Business Outlook Survey event on 2 March explained, the roll-out of vaccines in China is happening more slowly than expected, which is quite worrying. Having been quite successful at preventing the spread of Covid-19, authorities have understandably been focusing more on boosting the economy. However, so long as the entire population of China is not inoculated, there is a risk for Covid-19 to resurge in a stronger more virulent form, risking to reverse hard-won gains. 

We really need to speed up the jab!