COVID-19's lasting legacy? 'Immunity inequality,' Bill and Melinda Gates write in annual letter

"Immunity inequality," or a future where wealthy nations have access to COVID-19 vaccines while others don't, could be a hallmark of the pandemic, Bill and Melinda Gates wrote in their annual letter, published Jan. 27.

Currently, wealthier nations have spent the past months pre-buying doses of vaccines to immunize their own populations, the Gateses wrote. In contrast, low- and middle-income countries will likely only be able to vaccinate 1 in 5 residents in the next year.

"From the beginning of the pandemic, we have urged wealthy nations to remember that COVID-19 anywhere is a threat everywhere," the Gateses wrote. "Until vaccines reach everyone, new clusters of disease will keep popping up. Those clusters will grow and spread. Schools and offices will shut down again. The cycle of inequality will continue."

It will take a collaborative, global approach to ensure vaccines reach as many people as possible in 2021, they wrote. 

"That kind of shared effort is important, because in a global crisis like this one, you don't want companies making decisions driven by a profit motive or governments acting with the narrow goal of protecting only their own citizens," the letter states. "You need a lot of different people and interests coming together in goodwill to benefit all of humanity."

Read the full letter here.

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