Vaccine politics are playing an important role in most industries, affecting governments, businesses, and individuals alike. Home to many entrepreneurs and startups, successful vaccine distribution in APAC will have a significant impact on innovation in the region.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up global economies like nothing seen in decades. The Asia Pacific region (APAC) is being hit hardest of all, as the first area to face the pandemic and the last to leave it.
Entrepreneurs and small businesses are coping with especially challenging circumstances, but improved vaccine distribution could save them, and the global economy, from long-term damage.
APAC Economic Recovery: A Global Concern
Most of the world’s largest economies have important ties to the Asia Pacific region; the health of APAC economies has a direct impact on the health of all economies worldwide. This has already been witnessed in persistent supply shortages in critical industries, such as computer components (i.e. motherboards, CPUs, graphics cards, etc.), a large majority of which are manufactured in APAC nations.
When these nations struggle to get employees back to work while also properly supporting the health of their citizens, the entire world feels the ripple effect. Prices on computer parts, for example, have skyrocketed since the pandemic set in. This has made the switch to remote work even more challenging for many businesses, who may not have the financial means to pay such high prices for critical equipment in the midst of a severe recession.
When fewer businesses are able to support remote work, their employees are more likely to be exposed to the virus, perpetuating further spread. When more people are suffering from Covid-19, fewer people are able to go to work, which digs the recession into a deeper hole while straining global supply chains even more.
Thus, increasing vaccine distribution in APAC nations is absolutely critical for the recovery of both the region’s as well as global economy.
Entrepreneurship and the Impact of Vaccine Distribution
The Covid-19 pandemic is hitting APAC economies significantly worse than other regions. While North America and Europe, for example, have vaccination rates as high as 70 to 80%, many APAC nations are struggling to breach even 30% fully vaccinated, as of late 2021 statistics.
Even as nations with higher vaccination rates are returning to a “new normal,” nations in the Asia-Pacific region are still experiencing widespread lockdowns and high infection rates.
The Importance of Entrepreneurship
The longer the pandemic goes on in these countries, the longer economic recovery will take. Scars left on the economy will persist longer as well, creating a harsher climate for entrepreneurs and small businesses. The health of entrepreneurship, in particular, is critical for overall economic health because it helps to stimulate growth, innovation, and positive social change.
Recessions inherently make survival more difficult for startups and small businesses, as consumers are reluctant to spend money and investors are reluctant to take risks on new business ventures. The survival of these smaller businesses, however, has been proven a crucial component of a healthy economy.
Many small businesses, in APAC as well as worldwide, have pivoted their approach in order to survive during the pandemic. In the Asia Pacific region, younger entrepreneurs have fared better overall, with 86% saying they “employed innovation” to succeed in the midst of Covid-19. They launched new products, adjusted their business models, and used technology to adapt to a challenging market. Equipped with and having grown up with the latest technology, young entrepreneurs may indeed be better equipped for the pandemic’s unique challenges, as technology has proven to be a lifeline for small businesses anywhere on the globe.
Vaccine Development and Distribution
The Covid-19 vaccine was developed and approved with revolutionary speed. While vaccines typically take about 5-10 years to go from development to public use, the mainstream Covid-19 vaccines were developed, tested, and produced in under a year. This is due in part to the nature of these vaccines, which took advantage of a new kind of technology, the mRNA vaccine, to drastically cut down development time.
Covid-19 vaccines generally consist of mRNA molecules (a piece of the Covid-19 virus that tells the body’s cells how to fight the virus) as well as lipids and maybe salts or sugars. Specially manufactured high-purity water is another vital component, used in the production process for the vaccines, as well as for thawing and sterilisation.
It is these peripheral necessities that are the most challenging part of vaccine distribution. The 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) agreed in a June 2021 meeting to “step up” vaccine distribution, but they did not make any commitments to lowering tariffs. While vaccine tariffs are relatively low, around 0.8%, tariffs on necessities like “alcohol solutions, freezing equipment, packaging, and storage materials, vials, and rubber stoppers average more than 5% and can be as high as 30% in some APEC countries.
Policies like this are making it difficult for less wealthy nations to get their people vaccinated, which is especially detrimental considering those same nations often have the least robust health care systems.
Global leaders in APEC are campaigning for cooperation, though- Rachel Taulelei, the chair of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), commented, “This is a decisive moment. We must not lose this window to bring Covid-19 under control by expanding vaccination. Trade can and must be part of the solution by supporting the production and distribution of vaccines and other medical supplies.”
United for Recovery
As more and more countries reach widespread vaccination rates, nations and pharmaceutical companies alike are stepping up to help out APEC nations still in need of more doses. Even nations within APEC are giving each other, and the world, a hand. India, for example, produces 60% of the world’s vaccines, often at costs much lower than competitor markets. Meanwhile, China has been making an effort to get vaccines produced and distributed all over the region to surrounding nations. Major pharmaceutical companies are establishing deals with APEC nations to get as many vaccinated as possible.
While the vaccine distribution in the Asia Pacific region may not be ideal, things are looking up. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are doing their best to adapt amidst an unprecedented environment and national leaders are working to pull their citizens out of the pandemic. Vaccine distribution is a global concern, though, and must be a global effort. When the world works together to help all nations recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone will get to share in the far-reaching benefits of economic health.