According to a release from the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 18 months after the first administration of a COVID-19 vaccine, progress has been made with lower-income countries administering billions of COVID-19 vaccines in a historic global rollout that is unprecedented in terms of speed, scale and demographics reached.
Yet despite this progress, and the easing of global supply constraints, inequities between lower and higher income countries are continuing to cost lives and are prolonging the pandemic by increasing the threat posed by the emergence of new, potentially more dangerous variants of the virus.
Only 16% of people in low-income countries have received a single vaccine dose – compared to 80% in high-income countries. In certain lower-income countries, many of the most at-risk people in society – healthcare workers, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions – are going unprotected while young, healthy adults receive booster doses in wealthier countries.
The world must act urgently to close this equity gap.
After a year of severe constraints, there is now a situation that two years ago would have seemed impossible: namely global supply is now high enough to underpin the overarching objective of supporting equitable, full vaccination of all adult and adolescent populations globally. COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, has access to more than enough doses needed to enable 91 lower-income countries that are supported by the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) – which provides donor-funded doses of a wide variety of COVID-19 vaccines – to meet their targets in light of the WHO global target of protecting 70% of the population in each country. In accordance with the updated SAGE roadmap of January 2022 – which recommends boosters for priority groups – COVAX is now open to and encouraging requests for doses for booster campaigns from countries.
COVAX is also well-placed to deliver these doses so they reach those in need. In just 15 months, COVAX – as the Vaccines Pillar of the ACT-Accelerator partnership for equitable access to COVID-19 tools – has shipped over 1.4 billion vaccines to 87 low and lower-middle income countries around the world. COVAX shipments account for 82% of vaccines delivered to low-income countries and the majority of COVID-19 vaccines administered in humanitarian settings. Through driving the fastest, largest and most complex global vaccination effort in history, COVAX’s work has helped raise the average proportion of people protected by a full course of vaccines in these low- and lower-middle income countries to 46%.
The onus now is on building on this foundation to help countries to fully protect high risk groups, meet national vaccination targets, and close the global COVID-19 vaccine equity gap for good. However, hurdles now remain: demand and uptake are low, with low-income countries remaining the furthest behind.