Health and Healthcare Systems

This is how much work is left to vaccinate the world against COVID-19

A nurse prepares a dose of Moderna vaccine at a vaccination centre at the Dresden Fair, in Dresden, Germany, July 29, 2021.  REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel - RC2BUO90NW2X

Low-income countries have been left behind in the vaccine race. Image: REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • In many countries, a large proportion of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • But this is far from the case across the globe, with billions still waiting on vaccines.
  • This is why vaccine inequity matters - and the steps being taken to ensure equal access.

Many countries have seen rapid vaccination programmes, with millions of people around the world now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, much of this initial progress is concentrated in the world's wealthiest nations.

The latest data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows that around half of people in high-income countries have been vaccinated. In low-income countries? Barely more than 1%.

Global vaccine inequity

Indeed, in some countries, the latest data shows almost no one is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Our World in Data reports that in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, 0% of the population has received full protection. And, the same data shows that in numerous countries this figure remains below 1%.

Share of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in selected countries
Share of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in selected countries. Image: Our World in Data

As the UNDP data shows, the split between income groups is clear, with higher income groups surging ahead in vaccine delivery.

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by country income group.
COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by country income group. Image: Our World in Data

This inequality is also clear when you consider things on a continent-by-continent basis. Africa, Oceania and South America lag far behind Asia, Europe and North America.

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by continent.
COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by continent. Image: Our World in Data

Why is vaccine inequity a problem?

There are health, economic and moral implications for failing to vaccinate the world as evenly and fairly as possible.

“Vaccine inequity is the world’s biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from COVID-19,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said last month.


Failure to vaccinate could see new vaccine-resistant variants emerge, threatening the health of the entire global population. As many have put it, 'nobody is safe until everybody is safe.'

There have also been warnings that an inequitable vaccine rollout will hit the socioeconomic recovery in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Data shows that low-income countries could have added $38 billion to their GDP forecast for 2021 if they had similar vaccine rates as high-income countries.

Numerous world leaders have also emphasized the moral obligation to ensuring the vaccine rollout is equitable.


What's being done about vaccine inequity?

COVAX, co-led by Gavi, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and to ensure fair and equal access for every country around the world.


So far, it's delivered more than 150 million vaccine doses around the world, with a target of making 2 billion available by the end of 2021. However, in June it warned that short-term supply concerns remain - particularly throughout July and August.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about access to vaccines?

Elsewhere, the Group of 7 countries met in June and committed to sharing at least 870 million vaccine doses, with the aim to deliver at least half of that by the end of 2021. At the same time, the G7 reaffirmed its commitment to COVAX as the "primary route for providing vaccines to the poorest countries".

The World Bank and African Union also announced plans in June to work together to fast-track vaccine acquisition across the continent. The programme aims to complement the work of COVAX and supports the African Union's target to vaccinate 60% of the continent's population by 2022.

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