Recent research papers from experts argue that economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic hinges on widespread, equitable vaccine distribution. The economists claim that the world will continue to see new variants of the virus until both high and low-income countries alike have access to vaccines.
Across the nation, the pandemic has led to worsening socioeconomic disparities and education inequality. More than a year since the virus first appeared, the pandemic recession continues to plague millions of lives. Multiple Yale economists argue that the path to normalcy depends on global vaccine distribution, as this will limit the virus’ ability to mutate and spread.
“Vaccine distribution is likely the only possible end game to COVID-19,” said Yale economics professor Mushfiq Mobarak, in an interview with the News.
A recent policy research paper by the World Bank outlines a vaccine distribution plan that aims to end the pandemic by March 2022. The paper argues for vaccinating 60 percent of the population in each country, aiming to overcome the disparities between low-income and high-income countries in order to achieve herd immunity — resistance to infectious disease when a high proportion of the population is immune — by the pandemic’s second anniversary. To accommodate global vaccine inequity, the paper predicts an additional 4 billion dollars in grant funding will be needed from the COVAX Advance Market Commitment to end the pandemic on a global scale.
“There’s no end to the mutation [until everybody is vaccinated],” said Tristan Reed, an economist at the World Bank and co-author of the policy paper, in an interview with the News .
Reed argues that the virus will continue to mutate and potentially produce more transmissible variants until the bulk of the population has been vaccinated, as displayed by the Ebola epidemic. In 2014, Ebola exploded across West Africa, infecting more than 28,000 people. To achieve herd immunity against Ebola, researchers found that between 52 and 78 percent of the population needed to be vaccinated.
Similarly, with the COVID-19 outbreak affecting global populations, policymakers must combat global vaccine inequity to minimize long-lasting consequences to the U.S. economy, according to Reed.
“[We can’t ] just keep vaccinating ourselves and allow the rest of the world to continue to be a virus factory,” he said.
Even in the United States, which has an excess supply of COVID-19 vaccines, socioeconomic disparities still persist. Despite vaccine distribution, the pandemic continues to exacerbate economic inequality within the nation. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, Asian Americans, Hispanics and lower-income adults are most likely to report a pay cut in their household during the pandemic. The same report found that 1 in 10 Amercians said they would never recover from the pandemic’s financial strain, while 1 in 4 high-income Americans said their household’s financial situation has improved since the start of the pandemic a year ago.
Mobarak further explained that people with white collar jobs can more easily convert office work to remote settings. This minimizes the economic consequences of the pandemic.
“If your work requires … interaction with people going into the market, then the pandemic had a deeper scar on your employment condition,” Mobarak said.
In contrast to essential workers, who often must physically interact with others, Mobarak said the pandemic accelerated the digital revolution within white collar industries, creating systemic change across business and work fields.
“We have now learned how to [work] in ways that don’t require in-person interaction,” Mobarak said.
Despite lower case counts allowing the gradual return of in-person work, Jose-Antonio Espin-Sanchez, an associate economics professor at Yale University, added that institutions should prepare for long term changes and establish a balance between remote and in-person work.
“What is most likely to happen … is a big institutional change in the way people do business and the way people go to work,” Espin-Sanchez said.
So far, government relief aid has helped mute some of the pandemic’s economic impacts in the United States. However, Yale economics professor Steven Berry said he worries that worsening circumstances in the fall might create lasting economic impacts.
“Poverty has perhaps declined in the United States over the course of the pandemic [because of] the aid packages that were put out.” Berry said. “If things get worse in the fall, I’m nervous again, because I don’t think we’re going to get another big aid package.”
The pandemic exacerbated child poverty and education inequality across the nation, according to Berry. A new research paper by the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis found that public school districts that switched to entirely remote instruction due to the pandemic had a 42 percent greater decline than those that offered in-person learning. Although students from suburban communities often had accessible resources to support remote learning, districts in rural communities experienced higher disenrollment rates, according to the paper.
“For a child who is on the margins of getting a good education … losing a year of education is a tremendous blow,” Berry said. “Helping kids overcome those educational deficits [increases] the long run economic growth in the country.”
Berry agreed that the most effective way to minimize the pandemic’s long-lasting economic effects is to combat the virus through global vaccine distribution.
“We are all interdependent [on other countries] because the virus knows no borders,” Mobarak said. “Unless you have a global strategy for eliminating the virus and achieving global herd immunity, new variants may come right back into your country.”