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Research Questions

  1. What are the negative implications of vaccine nationalism on the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines?
  2. What are the economic implications of inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across countries?

Experience shows that, in response to pandemics, national governments tend to follow their own interests instead of pursuing a more globally coordinated approach. This nationalistic behaviour could have negative consequences on how well the COVID-19 global pandemic is managed and contained.

A situation in which countries push to get first access to a supply of vaccines, potentially hoarding key components for vaccine production, has been commonly referred to as 'vaccine nationalism'. This report examines how the management of the COVID-19 crisis may be affected by vaccine nationalism and what the associated economic cost would be of inequitable access to vaccines across countries.

Key Findings

Vaccine nationalism could lead to the unequal allocation of COVID-19 vaccines and cost the global economy up to $1.2 trillion a year in GDP terms

  • Even if some countries manage to immunise their populations against the virus, as long as the virus is not under control in all regions of the world, there will continue to be a global economic cost associated with COVID-19.

Until there is a widely available vaccine for COVID-19, physical distancing measures will continue to affect key sectors of the global economy negatively, especially those that rely on close physical proximity between people

  • The global cost associated with COVID-19 and its economic impact could be $3.4 trillion a year. For the EU it will be about 5.6 per cent in annual GDP, about $983 billion. The loss incurred by the UK is about 4.3 per cent — an annual loss of about $145 billion. The US loses about 2.2 per cent in annual GDP, about $480 billion.

Even if nationalistic behaviour is inevitable, there are economic incentives to providing access to vaccines across the globe

  • Based on previous estimates, it would cost $25 billion to supply lower income countries with vaccines. The US, the UK, the EU and other high-income countries combined could lose about $119 billion a year if the poorest countries are denied a supply. If these high-income countries paid for the supply of vaccines, there could be a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4.8 to 1. For every $1 spent, high-income countries would get back about $4.8.


  • Investing in vaccine development and equitable access would be economically beneficial in the long run.
  • To encourage international sharing of vaccines, we need enforceable frameworks for vaccine development and distribution, managed by established international forums.
  • The international effort to support vaccination distribution needs to be sustained over time.

Research conducted by

Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. The research was conducted by RAND Europe.

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