At the launch of the latest global economic outlook from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the organisation’s head of fiscal affairs, Vitor Gaspar, said that “global vaccination is probably the global public investment with the highest return ever considered. Vaccination policy is economic policy.”
This pretty much sums up where we are at the moment and where we are likely to go over the coming months.
The reality is that the rollout of the global vaccination programme will largely determine economic activity and personal freedoms to varying degrees in different countries, over the coming months.
For countries such as China or New Zealand, it is possible to pursue a zero-Covid policy for very different reasons. However, for the majority of countries - very much including Ireland - zero-Covid is a fantasy notion, just like the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy.
As a consequence, many countries will continue to be subject to varying degrees of restrictions for some time to come. Indeed, here in Ireland NPHET has decreed in its infinite wisdom that Ireland is not ready to reopen further yet.
Last week, the latest global outlook from the IMF was incredibly upbeat at one level, but was also very cautious at another. It now expects the global economy to expand by a very impressive 6% in 2021, which marks a significant upward revision from its prognostications in December.
The more upbeat assessment is based on the successful rollout of the vaccination programme, and the ongoing strong official policy response across the globe aimed at supporting households and businesses.
However, the cautious piece derives from a fear that the vaccines might not manage to stay ahead in the race against emerging variants of the virus.
It is clear that the global economic recovery will not be smooth, and just as some countries and some sectors suffered more than others over the past year, the recovery in countries and amongst different sectors is set to be very uneven.
Notwithstanding reservations about the continued efficacy of vaccines in the face of viral mutation, it is clear that the unevenness of the recovery will be heavily determined by the unevenness of the vaccine rollout.
While things can change quickly, and hopefully we will all be swamped in the supply of vaccines over the next couple of months, it is very clear that some countries are handling the vaccine rollout very well, while others a lot less so.
Recent data from the OECD shows that in the first week of March, 57% of the population of Israel had received at least one dose of vaccine. The equivalent in Germany was 6%, France 5%, and Brazil just 4%. The UK was at 32% and the US at 17%.
These relativities can, of course, change quickly and the absolute numbers will have jumped over the past month, but it seems an incontrovertible fact that governments have varied enormously in terms of delivering the vaccine, and - as a consequence - the relative economic recoveries will be driven by the varying performances in the vaccine rollout.
A real concern is for poorer countries and how quickly they will manage to get their vaccination rates up. The IMF is adamant that the production and distribution of vaccines at an affordable price for poorer countries is ramped up; that COVAX is given increased funding to enable it to roll out vaccination to poorer countries; that effective test, track and trace programmes are put in place; and that the vaccines stay ahead in the race against the variants.
While we are all pre-occupied with the vaccine rollout in this side of the world, a global perspective has to be taken, as nobody wins this race until everybody wins it.
We should be concerned about how rampant it is in Brazil, for example.
There is little point in some countries achieving very high vaccination levels if other countries are way behind. This particularly relates to the safe resumption of international travel.
There is an economic vaccine divide, but the reality is that jobs will depend on jabs.