Issues Behind Vaccine Disparity in Asia

Written by: Noor 

Edited by: Martin 

Visual by: Ethan

The Philippines and Singapore are two Southeast Asian countries that geographically stand, a minimal, 2,355 km apart from each other. Though they may not be distant from each other on a map, they are certainly distant from each other in their COVID-19 response efforts and their returns to normality. The current COVID-19 situation in Singapore can be regarded as a prime example of an organized and successful return to normality; acting as not only a prime example in Asia, but for the rest of the world as well. They have an impressive vaccination record with over 79% of their population as of September 7, 2021, according to the Financial Times. In comparison, the Philippines has fully vaccinated only 13.9% of its population, almost six times less than Singapore. Although these statistics may be great news for Singapore, they also represent the dismaying reality of vaccine inequality — a problem that needs to be tackled as soon as possible. 

There is no denying that Singapore has succeeded in their COVID-19 vaccination program; however, their Southeast Asian neighbors tell a different story. Is it ethical for some countries to want to vaccinate as close to 100% of their populations as possible while others have barely vaccinated the comorbid? I would say no, it is not. Singapore has begun giving its eldery population booster shots as well as giving children as young as 12 years old the Pfizer shot. The Philippines, on the other hand, has yet to vaccinate the remaining 68% of its senior citizen population, and more shockingly, still hasn’t vaccinated 16% of its healthcare workers, according to UNICEF. This cannot be considered a fair distribution of the essential COVID-19 vaccines. In order for the world to move on from the pandemic, it is essential that we vaccinate as many people around the world as possible starting with the most vulnerable and ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines between countries. Such a disparity of vaccination statistics and distributions will not enable us to collectively experience a world free of COVID-19. 

Ethically, the idea of countries that have excelled in their vaccination programs, deciding to shut out the rest of the world, for any number of self-preservation reasons, seems rather wrong. Even more immoral would be how these countries then go on to live in a mask free bubble while others remain in the highest level of lockdown. COVID-19 still remains a very distinct reality for those in countries that have fallen behind on their vaccination programs, due to all the implications such as lockdowns, economic inactivity, travel restrictions, and other effects, still being felt. This is especially clear for places like the Philippines, which remains one of only two countries in the world wherein students have yet to make a return to face-to-face classes. 

The disparity of vaccinations is, and will likely become, a much larger issue in the coming years, in light of certain countries being left behind while other more vaccinated countries such as Singapore continue to progress further into the return back to normality. Singapore and the Philippines are prominent examples of vaccine disparity playing out around the globe. If countries come together to help each other vaccinate their respective populations rather than operating off a realism approach, wherein governments solely focus on their own respective populations and prioritize everyone second, then and only then will we be able to end COVID-19 once and for all. It is indisputable that we make sure that vaccines are distributed to countries equally and fairly so that all countries as a collective can move on from COVID-19, rather than just those who are economically stronger. When doing so we must make sure that vaccines are distributed to countries equally and fairly, based on factors such as their population sizes, number of senior citizens, number of health workers and so on. It may take time but eventually, if all efforts are made, everyone will be able to move on from COVID-19 as a collective. 

Works Cited

Chew Hui Min
    @ChewHuiMinCNA, et al. “Singapore to Offer COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots to Seniors, Some Immunocompromised People.” CNA, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/covid-19-vaccine-booster-shots-seniors-immunocompromised-elderly-care-homes-2154791.

FT Visual & Data Journalism team. “The Global Race to Vaccinate.” Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker, 24 Aug. 2021, ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=ind&cumulative=1&doses=total&populationAdjusted=1.

Goh, Timothy. “Teens Aged 12 to 15 to Get Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine in Singapore.” The Straits Times, 23 May 2021, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/singapore-approves-use-of-pfizer-covid-19-vaccine-for-those-aged-12-to-15.

Goh, Timothy. “Teens Aged 12 to 15 to Get Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine in Singapore.” The Straits Times, 23 May 2021, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/singapore-approves-use-of-pfizer-covid-19-vaccine-for-those-aged-12-to-15.“WHO Philippines Expresses Concern at the Low COVID-19 Vaccination Rate among Senior Citizens in Some LGUs amid Rising Threat from New Variants.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/philippines/news/detail/30-07-2021-who-philippines-expresses-concern-at-the-low-covid-19-vaccination-rate-among-senior-citizens-in-some-lgus-amid-rising-threat-from-new-variants.