Ethical Obligations of Global Justice in the Midst of Global Pandemics

Radical redistribution and extensive reforms of global order




COVID-19 Pandemic, Global Justice, Rectificatory Justice, Health-care distribution, John Rawls, Thomas Pogge


This paper considers the obligation higher income countries have to lower and middle income countries during a global pandemic. Further considers which reforms are needed to the global supply-chain of medical resources. The short-comings in distribution and medical infrastructure have exacerbated the health crisis in developing countries. Global justice demands radical redistribution of medical resources in order to prevent mass casualties. This is argued first by highlighting that the COVID-19 pandemic should be acknowledged as an issue of global justice, secondly, higher income countries ought to account for distribution inequity as a matter of rectifying past injustices, and thirdly argue for reform in distribution while considering the vaccine rollout as a prime example. We aim to show how the differences from country to country in response capabilities are a result of the economic foundation colonialism established and a direct result of cyclical poverty, which wealthy countries perpetuate to this day.


abc news. Limousine driver at the centre of Bondi cluster won't be charged, Police Commissioner says. (June 2021). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

Acemoglu, Daron, Simon Johnson, and James A Robinson. “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” American Economic Review 91, no. 5 (December 1, 2001): 1369–1401.

AfricaCDC. ‘Africa CDC COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard’. African Union CDC. (October 2022). Online at (accessed 2022-10-30).

Banerjee, R., and Blake, P. (Host). 'Absolutely Unacceptable' COVID-19 Vaccination Rates in Developing Countries | The Development Podcast. Podcast (August 2021). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

Berg, Sara MS. AMA . What doctors wish patients knew about COVID-19 herd immunity. (August 2021). Online at (accessed 2022-10-30).

Brock, Gillian. Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

CEPI. COVAX calls for urgent action to close vaccine equity gap. (20 May 2022). Online at (accessed 2022-10-30).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics of COVID-19. (November 2021) Online at (accessed 2021-12-29).

Cliff, Edward & Fernandes, Brian. ‘COVID Zero Is No Longer Working for Australia’. The New York Times. Opinion (September 2021). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

Collste, Göran. “‘… Restoring the Dignity of the Victims’. Is Global Rectificatory Justice Feasible?” Ethics & Global Politics 3, no. 2 (January 2010): 85–99.

Collste, Göran “‘Where You Live Should Not Determine Whether You Live’. Global Justice and the Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccines.” Ethics & Global Politics 15, no. 2 (April 3, 2022): 43–54.

Crutzen, C.J. & Kucking, M. ‘Mayer Brown’. The Waiver of Patent Protection for COVID-19 Vaccines–On Practicability and Purpose of Such Measure. (7 July 2021). Online at (accessed 2022-10-30).

Dermitzakis, Emmanouil. T.; et al. Rates of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and vaccination impact the fact of vaccine-resistant strains. Sci Rep 11, Article number: 15729 (30 July 2021). Online at (accessed 2022-10-30).

Elflein, John. Number of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths worldwide as of December 16, 2021, by country. Statista (December 2021). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

EMA. EMA recommends first COVID-19 vaccine for authorisation in the EU. News (December 2020). Online at (accessed 2022-10-30).

European Commission. Coronavirus: European Solidarity in action. Live Tracker. Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

Frisch, Miriam F., Kirstin Woody Scott, and Agnes Binagwaho. “An Implementation Research Approach to Reorient Health Supply Chains Toward an Equity Agenda in the COVID-19 Era.” Annals of Global Health 87, no. 1 (April 23, 2021): 42.

Kaplan, Thomas, Rebecca Robbins, & Sheryl Gay Stolberg. ‘Taking ‘Extraordinary Measures’, Biden Backs Suspending Patents on Vaccines’. The New York Times. (May 2021). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

Kapur, Devesh, and John McHale. “Should a Cosmopolitan Worry about the ‘Brain Drain’?” Ethics & International Affairs 20, no. 3 (September 2006): 305–20.

Kliff, Sarah, Satariano, Adam, Silver-Greenberg, Jessica & Kulish, Nicholas. There Aren’t Enough Ventilators to Cope With the Coronavirus. (March 2020). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

Kymlicka, Will, and Christine Straehle. “Cosmopolitaniam, Nation-States, and Minority Nationalism: A Critical Review of Recent Literature.” European Journal of Philosophy 7, no. 1 (April 1999): 65–88.

Miglani, Sanjeev & Kumar, Manoj. Indian hospitals turn away patients in COVID-19 ‘tsunami’. (April 2021). Online at (accessed 2021-12-29).

Miller, David. “Immigrants, Nations, and Citizenship*.” Journal of Political Philosophy 16, no. 4 (December 2008): 371–90.

Miller, David. “Justice in Immigration.” European Journal of Political Theory 14, no. 4 (October 2015): 391–408.

Muralidharan, Anantharaman, G. Owen Schaefer, Tess Johnson, and Julian Savulescu. “Funder Priority for Vaccines: Implications of a Weak Lockean Claim.” Bioethics 36, no. 9 (November 2022): 978–88.

Nature Index. Top 200 institutions in biomedical sciences. (2019) Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

O’Dowd, Adrian. “COVID-19: Government Was Too Slow to Respond to Ventilator Shortages, Say MPs.” BMJ, November 25, (2020), m4594.

Pastakia, Sonak D., Dan N. Tran, Imran Manji, Cassia Wells, Kyle Kinderknecht, and Robert Ferris. “Building Reliable Supply Chains for Noncommunicable Disease Commodities: Lessons Learned from HIV and Evidence Needs.” AIDS 32, no. Supplement 1 (July 1, 2018): S55–61.

Pogge, Thomas W. “Eradicating Systemic Poverty: Brief for a Global Resources Dividend.” Journal of Human Development 2, no. 1 (January 2001): 59–77.

Rella, Simon A., Yuliya A. Kulikova, Emmanouil T. Dermitzakis, and Fyodor A. Kondrashov. “Rates of SARS-CoV-2 Transmission and Vaccination Impact the Fate of Vaccine-Resistant Strains.” Scientific Reports 11, no. 1 (July 30, 2021): 15729.

Sager, Alex. “Reframing the Brain Drain.” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 17, no. 5 (September 3, 2014): 560–79.

Saleh, Mariam. Number of administered coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine doses per 100 people in Africa as of December 11, 2021, by country. Statista (December 2021). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

UN news. None of us is safe until we all are, says UN chief at EU push to end COVID-19 pandemic. Online at (accessed 2022-10-31).

U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Indonesia. With Over 40 Million Doses Delivered, United States Supports Indonesia’s COVID-19 Vaccination Drive. (October 2022). Online at (accessed 2022-10-30).

WHO. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard. (October 2022). Online at (accessed 2022-10-31).

WHO. COVAX–Working for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Overview (2022). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

WHO. Donors making a difference: Knocking down obstacles to COVID-19 vaccination. (March 2022). Online at (accessed 2021-10-30).

WHO. Shortage of personal protective equipment endangering health workers worldwide. Press Release (March 2020). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

WHO. Key lessons from Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Press Release (December 2021). Online at (accessed 2021-12-31).

Žižek, Slavoj. Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World. OR Books, 2020.



2023-03-21 — Updated on 2023-03-29

How to Cite

Hicks, S. and Gurtler, P. (2023) “Ethical Obligations of Global Justice in the Midst of Global Pandemics: Radical redistribution and extensive reforms of global order”, De Ethica, 7(2), pp. 44–62. doi: 10.3384/de-ethica.2001-8819.237244.