What does the global picture look like for vaccine supply?

Aine Fox, PA
·5-min read

Experts and health leaders have warned coronavirus vaccines must be fairly distributed globally in order to protect everyone.

But at the minute there are big gaps in access.

Here is a look at the situation.

– How is the rollout progressing in the UK?

As of Thursday, official figures showed 7,447,199 people in the UK had received a first dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week he is “very confident” about the UK’s vaccine supply.

There are currently some tensions around supplies from AstraZeneca after the European Union demanded doses from British plants during a row over supply shortages, but Cabinet minister Michael Gove insisted there “will be no interruption” to UK vaccine supplies.

– Is the UK in a similar situation to countries around the world?

No. There are huge differences across the globe.

For instance, as of last week, the United Nations said Guinea was the only low-income country on the continent of Africa to receive vaccine doses, with just 25 people having had a jab by then.

The Seychelles was the only African country to start a national vaccination campaign, it added.

Dr Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, said: “We’ve seen slightly higher distribution in places like Israel and Bahrain, and the UK has one of the highest (levels of vaccine) coverage so far.

“Increasingly we’re seeing vaccine rollout happening in middle-income countries, places like Brazil.

“But a lot of low-income countries have got none.”

Vaccine supply is not equal across the globe (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Vaccine supply is not equal across the globe (Owen Humphreys/PA)

– So how many doses have been given out in the top-performing countries?

According to research from Our World in Data, as of Wednesday Israel was way out in front, having administered 49 doses per 100 people.

For the UAE it was around 28, the UK around 11, Bahrain around eight and the US around seven per 100 people.

– Is anyone speaking out about the disparity?

Yes. World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly called for equitable distribution of vaccines and warned that a “me first” approach would prolong the pandemic as well as human and economic suffering.

Speaking earlier this month, Dr Tedros said there will be enough vaccine for everyone but that first we must “prioritise those most at risk of severe diseases and death, in all countries”.

He said that at that point, more than 39 million doses of vaccine had been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has warned that vaccinating “a lot of people in a few countries, leaving the virus unchecked in large parts of the world, will lead to more variants emerging”.

He added: “The more that arise, the higher the risk of the virus evolving to an extent where our vaccines, treatments and tests are no longer effective.”

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said there must be “a global effort to try and get this disease under control”.

– Is there anything being done to try to address it?

The Covax global vaccine-sharing fund aims to boost equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

It is co-led by Gavi (the vaccine alliance), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO.

Earlier this month, it was revealed the UK has helped raise more than £730 million for the Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC), committing £548 million in UK aid to help distribute 1.3 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines to 92 developing countries this year.

Sir Jeremy has suggested countries with existing vaccine supply deals could donate a percentage of doses “without taking away from the national effort to protect the most vulnerable in society and healthcare workers”.

He urged countries to donate doses through Covax and appealed to all countries to make future deals through the scheme.

– How is the global picture looking at the moment?

Last month, research suggested almost a quarter of the world’s population would not have access to a Covid-19 vaccine until 2022.

Residents are vaccinated with the second Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at San Jeronimo nursing home in Estella, around 38km (23 miles) from Pamplona, northern Spain
Residents are vaccinated at San Jeronimo nursing home in Estella, around 23 miles from Pamplona, northern Spain (Alvaro Barrientos/AP)

Experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore in the US said high-income countries had already secured billions of doses, with uncertainty around access for middle and low-income countries.

– Are wealthier countries being allowed to snap up all the available vaccine supplies?

Charitable organisations have warned that scores of poorer countries are at risk of being left behind when it comes to accessing vaccines, with rich nations “hoarding” stock.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, which includes organisations such as Oxfam and Amnesty International, said in December that as things stood then, 67 poorer countries would be able to vaccinate only one in 10 people against the virus this year.

It said data showed that rich nations representing just 14% of the world’s population had bought up 53% of all the most promising vaccines by then.

Dr Wenham said some rich countries “have bought way more (vaccine) than they could possibly need because they have been buying different amounts, they were hedging their bets”.