Directions: Ask students to read and answer questions about the online Science News article “Global inequity in COVID-19 vaccination is more than a moral problem.” A version of the story, “Vaccine inequity will prolong pandemic,” appears in the March 27, 2021 issue of Science News.

Students should answer the first set of questions alone and then work with a partner to answer the second and third sets of questions.

Want to make it a virtual lesson? Post the online Science News article to your virtual classroom. Discuss the article and questions with your class on your virtual platform.

Vaccinating our global community

1. Are COVID-19 vaccines being distributed fairly around the world? Explain.

The distribution isn’t equitable. Rich countries have secured many more doses of the vaccine than they need in advance, leaving fewer doses available for less-wealthy nations.

2. Which countries have had better access to COVID-19 vaccines? How does vaccine access affect countries’ vaccination rates? What impact do vaccination rates have on countries?

Wealthy countries have had better access to vaccine doses and therefore have higher rates of vaccination than less-wealthy nations with poor access to vaccine doses. A country’s vaccination rate can affect not only the health and social behaviors of its people, but also the health of its economy.

3. Choose one of the following quotes from the Science News article and discuss its meaning.

“The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure, and the price of this failure will be paid with the lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.”

“No one is safe until all of us are safe, since an outbreak anywhere can become an outbreak everywhere.”

“If we want to stop the spread we have to stop it everywhere, starting with the most vulnerable. Otherwise we’re going to see continued outbreaks and suffering.”

Student answers will vary but should highlight the need for a global solution to vaccinations.

4. Brainstorm communities of varying scales. Create a diagram that helps define the relative size and connectedness of the communities. One approach could be to use circles of relative sizes to define the different communities. Be sure to show how the communities are connected in your diagram.

Student answers will vary but should include individuals, families, town, county, state, national, continental, global.

Global and local impacts

1. What impact does vaccine inequity have on the global community in the short-term? What about the long-term?

In the short-term, some countries will have high vaccination rates and low numbers of COVID-19 cases. Countries that have poor access to vaccine doses will continue to have low vaccination rates and high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. People in countries with high vaccination rates may have fewer social restrictions and travel would probably increase.

In the long-term, an uneven vaccination rate could cause coronavirus variants to arise that spread more easily and are potentially more infectious. As a result, COVID-19 cases could spike even in countries with high vaccination rates as the vaccines may be less effective against variants. Travel would decrease and the global economy would also probably be further interrupted.

2. Discuss what you know about the vaccination rate in your own community with your partner. How could the impact of COVID-19 vaccines in your local community change over time as a result of global vaccine inequity? Think through short-term and long-term effects.

Student answers will vary. Students may mention that as vaccination rates increase in their community, the number of cases of and deaths from COVID-19 will decline. However, an uneven global vaccination rate could spur more variants of the coronavirus. Current vaccines may be less effective against those variants, and if the variants spread to the local community, COVID-19 cases could spike again. That could lead to stricter social restrictions that could impact businesses, people’s jobs and the economy.

3. Explain one existing approach to help create a more equitable solution to global vaccination distribution. Propose an idea that would help support the current approach, or suggest a unique alternative solution.

COVAX is using funds from governments and charitable organizations to buy vaccine doses from pharmaceutical companies and distribute the doses to low-income countries for free. Other student-suggested solutions will vary.

Global STEM collaboration

1. Can you think of an example from your own life where disjointed approaches to a solving a problem ended up causing a larger issue? What would have been a more successful approach?

Student answers will vary but should highlight a personal example of when collaboration led to a more successful outcome.

2. What are other examples of global collaborations in STEM that exist for the good of the humankind? Explain.

Student answers will vary. Students might mention global monitoring networks like the Global Ocean Observing System to observe climate data, the United Nations Paris climate accord or the World Health Organization.

3. Is there a STEM issue facing the world that you think needs a global solution? Explain.

Student answers will vary but could include more global collaboration to stop climate change or preparation for a future pandemic, for example.