Vaccine Equity and Speed

A call to action to reach the 70 percent national vaccination rate in an equitable way.

As of 30 January 2022, more than 3 billion people around the world were still waiting to receive their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. While many high-income countries have already reached the mid-2022 target of vaccinating 70 percent of their populations, people living in low-and lower-middle income countries are still disproportionately affected by the lack of affordable and accessible vaccines (see graph below). 

A more equitable and faster production, delivery and administration of vaccines is the only way out of the pandemic. This shift would allow lockdowns and containment measures to be lifted more rapidly, for economies to reopen and countries to recover.  Currently, 32 of the countries which did not meet the 40 percent coverage target are experiencing containment measures above the average. With the emergence of new variants that are prolonging the pandemic, the speed with which variant-effective vaccination campaigns are rolled out is crucial to secure a swift recovery. 

Vaccination speeds in low-income countries have picked up significantly towards the end of 2021. In January 2022, low-income countries administered a total of 18.3 million vaccines— nine times their July total and nearly eighteen times the amount distributed in April last year. Gambia, Myanmar, Ghana, and Rwanda were all able to distribute significantly more vaccines than in July of last year and three lower-middle income countries—Cambodia, Viet Nam and Bhutan— have already exceeded the 70 percent coverage target. An additional six countries, including Morocco, Samoa and El Salvador, have vaccinated over 60 percent of their populations.

However, stark differences between income groups remain. In addition, despite the pressing need to make up lost ground, low-income countries vaccinated fully approximately 0.3 percent people each week between November 2021 and January 2022— fewer than in their high-income counterparts (0.52 percent) with their already high vaccination coverage.

In low-income countries, as many as 19 million people need to be inoculated each week to reach the 70 percent vaccination target by mid-year – which represents an increase by over eight hundred percent compared to current rates. Currently, 24 of the 27 low-income countries have lower vaccination rates than what would be required to reach that target due to vaccine supply bottlenecks or insufficient absorptive capacity. Two countries from this group—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Eritrea— have not yet commenced their vaccination campaigns.

Globally, 97 countries would need to at least double their vaccination rates to achieve the 70 percent target. Still, the fastest acceleration in absolute terms is needed in low-income countries. For instance, NigeriaEthiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo would all have to increase their weekly vaccination rates by at least several million people. So far, insufficient levels of vaccination resulted in US$19,87 billion lost in GDP for these four countries as they have not been able to reach the 40 percent target at the end of 2021. If this trend continues, countries will be forced to stay in lockdown for longer and thus inhibit the socio-economic recovery needed to address other development challenges, such as education and healthcare.

The inequitable allocation of the global vaccine supply hamper vaccination progress in lower-income settings. While 39 high income countries have already achieved the 70 percent target as of January 2022, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria are still to receive enough supply to vaccinate 10 percent of their populations. Distribution capacity also remains a significant obstacle for lower-income countries. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan have administered only about a third of the vaccines they have received.