May 30th 2022

Focus: COVID-19 Vaccines

In the biggest vaccination campaign in history, more than 12 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide to provide protection against COVID-19, as of July 2022, (ONE). 66.5% of the world has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (Our World in Data) to date (13 July 2022), and 60.8% of the world’s population has been fully vaccinated. According to Imperial College London, 20 million deaths were avoided overall due to COVID-19 vaccines, however, another 600,000 deaths could have been avoided if the World Health Organisation (WHO) met its target to vaccinate 40% of the global population by the end of 2021 (Sky). 


What has been the progress in the last few years?

There is a clear divide between low-middle-income countries and high-income countries in vaccine distribution. Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT) combines public and private sector expertise and institutions to fast-track development and equitable distribution. A pillar of ACT was created, COVAX, to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines. So far (13 July 2022), 1.58 billion vaccines have been shipped through COVAX to 146 countries (UNICEF). However, despite mechanisms such as COVAX, only 17.8% of people in low-income countries have received at least one vaccine dose  (Our World in Data). For example, in Africa, only 19% of the population of the continent is fully vaccinated (ONE). 

COVID-19 has demonstrated inequity on a global scale, particularly in regards to access to vaccines which is due to insufficient global manufacturing capacity. There are barriers to a global network of manufacturing capacities such as intellectual property rights and knowledge sharing. In October 2020, the TRIPS waiver proposal was introduced to waive a range of intellectual property protections including patents, copyrights on COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests. While this was supported by 100 countries, it was not supported by the UK, Switzerland, Germany (DEVEX). Instead, we have witnessed the scramble for vaccines and cases of vaccine diplomacy with countries such as China, India and Russia donating vaccines to recipients as ‘goodwill’ gestures to further their interests (BFPG). 


When vaccination campaigns started, over 90% of vaccine doses were administered in high-income countries. A key organisation combating global vaccine inequity is CEPI (Coalition for Endemic Preparedness) who hosted a Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit & CEPI Replenishment in March 2022, raising 1.5 billion USD (compared to the initial ask of 3.5 billion USD) (DEVEX). Similarly, during the Gavi COVAX AMC Summit in April 2022, world leaders raised 4.8 billion USD in commitments for COVAX (GAVI). More recently, the second Global COVID-19 vaccines summit in May 2022 raised 3.2 billion USD (White House). 


In terms of tracking progress, in September 2021, world leaders set a target of vaccinating 70% of the population in all countries by September 2022. By the end of 2021, wealthier countries had already met this target. Based on current trends, low-income countries are unlikely to meet this target in 2022 (ONE).


UK Government

In public spending, the UK government has spent 300 – 400 billion GBP during the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2022) (UK Parliament). At the G7 summit hosted by the UK in June 2021, the G7 countries pledged to donate 870 million vaccine doses to COVAX by June 2022. This also included a commitment by the UK to donate 100 million vaccine doses to other countries, including 80 million vaccine doses via COVAX (WHO) (UK Government). However, the UK has only delivered 39% of their pledge (ONE). Also, the UK cutting its aid budget by 4.6 billion GBP has directly and indirectly undermined vaccination efforts (Institute for Global Change).


What opportunities are there for change? 

It is crucial to highlight the inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines. For example, it is important to deliver on vaccine supply promises and strengthen healthcare systems as countries shift their resources from essential healthcare to managing COVID-19. Notably, the EU launched its HERA programme which was created to highlight pandemic preparedness, to “anticipate threats and potential health crises, through intelligence gathering and building the necessary response capacities” (European Commission). 


Written by: ZAHRA BEG,