Children are less likely than adults to die of COVID-19. But over 200,000 children in the United States have lost a home caregiver – a parent or grandparent – to COVID. Around the world, millions of children have been orphaned. Orphanhood leads to homelessness, sibling separation, reconstituted families, child marriage, domestic violence risks, school problems, and malnutrition. The psychological devastation of losing a parent or becoming an orphan is the hidden pandemic for children.
The only way to stop the pandemic of orphanhood is to increase immunization rates in low and middle income countries. While most citizens in wealthier countries have been vaccinated and boosted, the situation is dire in low and middle income countries where nearly 3 billion people have not gotten a first dose. The situation has been labelled “vaccine apartheid.”
Why such disparities? It is not vaccine hesitancy. People in poor countries who are offered vaccine are more likely to accept it than people in wealthier countries. It is not that poor countries lack the capacity to manufacture vaccine. Over 100 companies have that capacity. They just lack access to intellectual property rights. And it is not, as once believed, that COVID is less severe in poor countries so that vaccines are not necessary. In fact, excess deaths have been far higher in poor countries than in rich ones.
What can be done to reduce the number of new orphans in the world? Endorse and support the World Health Organization COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP) Endorse and support the proposal by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive relevant intellectual property rules under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) for COVID-19 vaccines, tests, treatments, and other technologies. Join world leaders who have called for A People’s Vaccine. And give money to UNICEF, which is a world leader in providing services to children orphaned by COVID.