The Ethics of Global Vaccine Distribution in Public Health Emergencies: A Case Study on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
The COVID-19 pandemic is a considerable challenge to global public health. With the introduction of apparently reliable and effective vaccines against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the ethical argument has switched to how to allocate a limited quantity of vaccines in a fair and equitable manner. The distribution of vaccines between countries raises several complex and contentious problems, including distributive justice issues. The world is now witnessing an unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between high-income and low-income countries because of many obstacles such as vaccine nationalism, bilateral purchase agreements, and intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines. Most of the studies about vaccine distribution focused on the impacts of inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and barriers to equal distribution of vaccines. Therefore, it is critical to discuss the fundamental ethical and global justice issues related to the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between high-income and low-income countries. This study aimed to uncover the ethical and public health concerns surrounding global vaccine distribution and recognize the ethical frameworks that could help guide access to a fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between high- and low-income countries. An ethical analysis was chosen to answer the research questions. The vaccine distribution data of high-income and low-income countries were collected from official websites and scientific journal articles. The data from the start of the distribution of vaccines until 14 December 2021 were only included in this study. Low-income countries such as Ethiopia and Yemen were selected as case examples. The study identified a significant inequity in the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between high-income and low-income countries. The study found that most of the African low-income countries and other low-income countries had secured a few vaccines compared to high-income countries. The data had been analyzed within the cosmopolitan and nationalistic/communitarian approaches of the global justice framework. The findings elicited that most of the cosmopolitan views of global justice were violated concerning the global vaccine distribution. Furthermore, it was concluded that a considerable cosmopolitanism along with a moderate nationalism could be a moral justification for the equal distribution of vaccines between low-income and high-income countries. Based on the ethical analysis, the study also suggested alternative options to ensure equal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between high-income and low-income countries.