Blog > nursing

Could a global 'vaccine tax' help achieve vaccine equity?

How do we deal with global vaccine inequity? Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • People in wealthier countries are far more likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Some countries have committed funds to help resolve global vaccine inequity, but others have not.
  • A new paper proposes a solution: a sliding-scale tax to be built into the price of vaccines and collected by manufacturers.

As of December 9, 2021, more than 8.1 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide. However, most of those have gone to people who live in the world’s high income countries.

As of December 8, 2021, 64.94% of the population of those countries have received at least one vaccine dose. In low income countries, this figure is just 8.35%.

In addition to the logistical challenge of getting vaccines to those who need them, the cost of purchasing them in the first place is the most significant barrier to addressing vaccine inequity.

To get a sufficient number of people vaccinated, experts estimate that poorer countries would have to increase their healthcare spending by 56.6%, while wealthier countries would only need to increase theirs by 0.8%.

In a LinkedIn plea urging corporate boards and investors to do more to persuade their companies to address vaccine inequity, Dr. Peter SingerTrusted Source — special advisor to the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) — puts it starkly:

“Every week, around 50,000 people die of COVID-19. Presumably, most were unvaccinated and didn’t have to die. Without speedy vaccination of the world, millions more will die.”

Dr. Singer adds that doing better is not “just about stopping COVID-19, it’s about keeping everyone safe from the next variant and the next pandemic.”

“It’s also about addressing the underlying structural injustices that perpetuate inequity.”

A vaccine tax

A new paper by Dr. Andreas Brøgger Albertsen, Ph.D. — of Aarhus University in Denmark — proposes a means of more equitably distributing the cost of the world’s vaccines among governments.

Dr. Albertsen suggests that a progressive vaccine “tax” could be included in the cost of vaccines based on a purchasing nation’s ability to pay.

He notes in his paper that the tax would provide a more workable solution than vaccine equity strategies often discuss. One of the most common of these ideas is that wealthier countries could divert foreign aid funds to vaccinations.

Dr. Albertsen cites two problems with this approach. First, “using [existing] foreign aid to provide vaccines would effectively reduce the amount of assistance given for non-vaccine purposes.” Second, if only some countries increase foreign aid, the financial burden of vaccine equity will be neither evenly nor fairly shared.

Hopes for the idea

Dr. Albertsen asserts that vaccine companies may be incentivized to accept his plan due to assurances of continuing purchases by a tax-committed COVAX.

He also suggests that the steadiness of vaccine demand will reassure manufacturers. He writes in his paper, “The companies hold a strong bargaining position in terms of making the buyers cover this expense.”

Beyond that, Dr. Albertsen told MNT that he feels that the world is eager to solve the vaccine-inequity dilemma.

“I believe that many people, including world leaders, can see that the current unequal distribution of vaccines is unethical.”

He added, “Some countries have, through their actions (i.e., donations to COVAX), shown a willingness to mitigate this, while others have been less forthcoming in that regard.”

Noting that “the vaccine tax does not solve all the problems with vaccine production,” Dr. Albertsen says, “it can work alongside other proposals to solve other problems and can seemingly complement them.”