People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccination in Cape Town, South Africa.,
ART: ISTOCK / YAMONSTRO; DWAYNE SENIOR/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES
Last May, the IMF released a detailed and comprehensive road map to end the COVID-19 pandemic, save lives, and put the world back on track toward a broad-based economic recovery ("A Proposal to End the COVID-19 Pandemic," Agarwal and Gopinath, 2021). The road map was endorsed by multilateral institutions and key stakeholders. It was based on a simple, yet powerful premise: Ending the pandemic is a necessary prerequisite to restoring jobs, livelihoods, and economic well-being. One cannot be achieved without the other.
How has the world fared since the release of the road map? The global recovery has continued, but momentum has weakened. In six months, the officially recorded global COVID-19 death toll has risen by about 50 percent and is now over 5 million, and the actual death toll is estimated to be several times higher. Of particular concern is the growing divergence in economic prospects between rich and poor nations. In the October 2021 World Economic Outlook, the IMF projected that aggregate output for advanced economies would regain its pre-pandemic trend path in 2022 and exceed it by 0.9 percent in 2024. By contrast, output for emerging market and developing economies, excluding China, is expected to remain 5.5 percent below the pre-pandemic forecast in 2024. This divergence in economic prospects is a consequence of wide disparities in vaccination rates (which we call “the great vaccine divide”) and policy support. As of the end of October, among advanced economies, about 65 percent of the population was fully vaccinated, and booster shots were available in many of them. By contrast, the vaccination rate was less than 2 percent among low-income countries. This is not just a problem for particular countries or regions, it is a global problem. As public health officials have stressed repeatedly, the pandemic is not over anywhere until it is over everywhere. Further unchecked transmission makes the emergence of new variants—including some that are resistant to existing vaccines—more likely, possibly putting the world back at the starting line in the race against the virus. If COVID-19 were to have a prolonged impact, we could see global GDP losses rise to $5.3 trillion over five years relative to our current projection, with several million more lives lost.