NEW YORK — The lack of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is a public health tragedy though the fast development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines help avert some of the worst-case scenarios in regards to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, according to philanthropist Bill Gates.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, receives an exclusive interview with Xinhua in Seattle, the United States, on Nov. 13, 2019. (Xinhua/Qin Lang)

“We face the very real risk that in the future, wealthy countries and communities will begin treating COVID-19 as yet another disease of poverty. We can’t put the pandemic behind us until everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to vaccines,” Bill Gates, co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said on Monday.

More than 80 percent of all COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries to date, with some securing two to three times the number needed so they can cover boosters, according to the latest annual Goalkeepers Report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

By contrast, less than 1 percent of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries.

Further, COVID-19 vaccine access has been strongly correlated with the locations where there is vaccine research and development and manufacturing capability. Though Africa is home to 17 percent of the world’s population, for example, it has less than 1 percent of the world’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities, according to a release by the foundation.

The report calls for the world to invest in research and development, infrastructure, and innovation in places closer to the people who stand to benefit.

“We must invest in local partners to strengthen the capacity of researchers and manufacturers in lower-income countries to create the vaccines and medicines they need,” said Mark Suzman, chief executive officer with the foundation.

The report shows that disparities caused by COVID-19 remain stark, and those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic will be the slowest to recover.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed as much as 31 million people into extreme poverty in the world within 2020 compared to 2019, said the release. And while 90 percent of advanced economies will regain pre-pandemic per capita income levels by 2022, only a third of low- and middle-income economies are expected to do so.

However, the world stepped up to avert some of the worst-case scenarios on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, according to the report.

New analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington shows that the decline in global vaccine coverage due to the COVID-19 pandemic was only half of what was anticipated a year ago, said the release.

To ensure a truly equitable recovery from the pandemic, the world needs long-term investments in health and economies like the ones that led to the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the report.

This year’s report is co-authored by Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates, co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is one of the largest charitable foundations in the world.