Abstract for: Pandemic Complexity through a Phenomenological and Systems Thinking Lens: a Focus on COVID-19 Vaccine (in)Equity

A pandemic, a wicked problem in itself, amplifies related wicked problems such as vaccine (in)equity. From April 1, 2021, the share of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in high-income countries grew from 8.7% to 72.4% in one year, as compared to 0% to 10.6% in low-income countries during the same period. Given the high level of uncertainty at play during a pandemic and the need to rapidly take decisions across many levels and sectors, trade-offs between different entangled problems emerge. Phenomenology and systems thinking are two distinct ways to reflect on vaccine (in)equity during COVID-19. Both approaches highlight how diverse perspectives on problems associated with the pandemic, such as vaccine inequity, contributed to it becoming a wicked problem. Based on a literature research about three categories of issues and a local case study related to vaccine inequity during COVID-19, shifts in attention, also referred to as foregrounding or backgrounding, have been analyzed. Seeing things in their entire complexity and transcending limited framings of problems is a precondition to managing wicked problems. This perspective piece shows strong complementarities between phenomenology and systems thinking, which hasn’t been extensively explored in literature. The combination of both approaches is suggested as a viable way forward