Vaccine development typically takes years of research, design, and trial. For Covid-19 vaccines, pharmaceutical companies took only months to receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. This rapid development should be applauded, but the next steps are equally crucial. These vaccines need to be affordable and accessible, not just in the United States, but globally. As one of the world’s wealthiest countries, the US should do its part to ensure we achieve worldwide vaccination.

Worldwide vaccination requires all countries receiving the vaccines they need. We need a sort of vaccine equity. Countries shouldn’t get more vaccines than they need, and all countries should receive what they require. Some countries like Canada and Germany are ordering as many as eight times more vaccines than people. This means poorer countries in Africa, South America, and Asia may not receive that surplus. Sharon Lerner of The Intercept calls this vaccine apartheid. “It’s already clear that the majority of countries will not have enough, while rich countries are hoarding vaccine supplies.” We cannot allow vaccine hoarding and unnecessary death in developing nations.

As far as cost, Americans will not pay for the vaccine out of pocket, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Typical employer-based or self-purchased health insurance is expected to cover any fees a vaccine provider may charge. Medicare and Medicaid will also cover these fees. A separate fund will reimburse medical providers for the vaccine costs for uninsured patients.

While a promising development in the US, the vaccine will not be free for every person on the planet. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which receive the bulk of media attention in the US, are priced between $20 and $37. While not extortionately expensive compared to other medical costs, as many as 650 million people worldwide live in extreme poverty, or $1.90 per day or less. $37 could be two weeks of wages or more. 

These people deserve the vaccine too. Cheaper vaccine alternatives like the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine and the Chinese vaccines are priced around $4 or less. China is already fostering international partnerships to have their vaccine shipped to neighboring countries in the coming months. We should work with the Chinese and have these vaccines central to a UN-sponsored global vaccination effort. 

I have written that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are like Lamborghinis—high-end mRNA shots requiring super-cooling freezers and double doses. The world doesn’t need a Lamborghini; it needs a Toyota—a cheaply manufactured, stored, and administered vaccine accessible to all. The Chinese vaccines and other cheap alternatives are more like the Toyota, and they should be used to innoculate the world population. Transporting super-cooling freezers to the Mojave desert or through the jungles of central Africa would be nearly impossible. Toyotas will always get the job done.

But why should the average American care about the vaccination of Nigeria, Pakistan, or Brazil? The answer is simple: So long as there is an uncontrolled spread of the virus somewhere in the world, it could resurface in massive outbreaks. Take the new UK variant of SARS-CoV-2. There have already been reports of this new variant in the United States. It is also said to be much more infectious than the strains we’ve been working with, so it has likely spread to numerous other states and countries. 

Not to mention, there is a new variant in South Africa as well, suggesting that there may be emerging variants waiting to pop up all over the world. Some homegrown variants may even be hidden in the US. Covid-19 is dangerous; we all know that. The only way to permanently contain it is to ensure everyone in the world is vaccinated. The repercussions of another massive outbreak after the losses of 2020 are too great to bear. We all need to do our part.