Nearly 18 months after the first administration of a COVID-19 vaccine, incredible 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, says UNICEF.
With more than 3.8 billion COVID-19 doses administered to-date, national governments in lower-income countries have led the way.
The number of countries with coverage under 10% of the population has decreased from 34 in January to 18 today.
Some Advance Market Commitment-supported countries – for example, Bhutan, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Maldives, Fiji and Bangladesh – have coverage above 70%.
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.
“We call on donor countries and manufacturers to support COVAX by ensuring the volume and timing of deliveries match as closely as possible the needs of lower-income countries,” said UNICEF.
Donors should support COVAX in maintaining a diverse portfolio, including variant-adapted vaccines if necessary, said the UN agency, adding that manufacturers should work with COVAX to re-phase or re-size supply from existing advance purchase agreements.
In order for the world to continue to make meaningful progress on closing the global vaccine equity gap, UNICEF urgently called on countries to set ambitious targets backed by concrete plans for implementation – prioritising full coverage of high risk groups – and on all partners to coordinate on providing countries with the resources needed to accelerate and expand national strategies, stimulate demand and overcome operational bottlenecks.
The next 3-4 months are crucial for accelerating COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, alongside moving to integrate COVID-19 vaccination efforts into routine primary health systems, according to UNICEF.
“A world beset by numerous challenges and crises does not change the fact that the pandemic – our collective crisis – is far from over. Closing the vaccine equity gap must continue to be an urgent priority for the international community,” UNICEF said.
COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, is co-led by CEPI, Gavi, WHO and UNICEF – working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, PAHO, the World Bank, and others.
It is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both high-income and lower-income countries.