Future of Covid: why the global vaccine rollout is crucial and the countries with the lowest vaccination rates

We reveal the countries with the lowest vaccine rates, what has been done to help them and why the global vaccine rollout is crucial

A global vaccine rollout is crucial in stopping the spread of Covid and resisting new variants of the virus, leading experts have warned.

As of 1 February, 61% of the world’s population had received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.

However, only 10% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

This is according to Our World In Data which uses the most recent official numbers from governments and health ministries worldwide.

To tackle the divide between rich and poor countries across the world, a global vaccine distributing initiative was founded in 2020 called COVAX.

The group ensures equal access to vaccines for every country, monitoring the amount of vaccines pledged by rich nations and how many they have actually donated.

The United Kingdom, as of 8 December 2021, had only donated 26.2 million doses out of the 100 million it pledged.

Which countries have the lowest vaccination rates?

The poorest countries in the world have the lowest vaccination rates across the globe.

Countries such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo are defined as low-income economies - nations that have a per capita gross national income (GNI) of $1,045 or less in 2020, according to the World Bank income classification.

Lower-middle income countries, such as Haiti and Cameroon, have a GNI per capita between $1,406 and $4,095.

Burundi, a country in East Africa, has the lowest number of people fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to Our World in Data

Africa has the slowest vaccination rate of any continent.

Countries in the Caribbean, Middle East and Oceania are also among those with the  least amount of vaccinated people.

A fully vaccinated person has received either a single-dose or both doses of a two-dose vaccine such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots.

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Why is the global vaccine rollout important?

Professor Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, said: “There is still much work to be done in improving access to vaccines in low and middle income countries.”

Dr Rebecca Ingram, senior lecturer in infection and immunity at Queen’s University, said: “Covid is a global problem and in order to fix it we need to have global solutions.

“Whilst we leave vast swathes of the world’s population unprotected and allow unfettered transmission to continue, the virus will rapidly mutate and resistant variants will emerge.”

“It is in all of our best interests to ensure equitable global distribution of vaccines,” she added.

Dr Ingram also added that the vaccination rollout should now have a global focus.

She said: “It feels morally very wrong to me for people in this country to be considering having a fourth vaccination when there are huge amounts of people around the world who have yet to even have a first vaccine.

“Our priority should be ensuring vaccine delivery in other countries.”

Professor Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at University of Warwick said the global vaccine rollout is important to reduce the emergence of new variants.

“As long as the virus continues to spread and replicate, particularly in populations who are under-vaccinated, it will throw up new variants and these will remain a continual threat even to those countries with high rates of vaccination,” he said.

Professor Andrew Preston, professor of microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath, also supports that, saying that “we should prioritise vaccination in those countries at greatest need”.

What is being done to help low-income countries?

COVAX is a worldwide vaccine-sharing initiative aimed at giving equal access to Covid-19 vaccines.

It coordinates international resources to enable low-to-middle-income countries access to Covid tests, therapies and vaccines.

It is directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The initiative originally aimed to provide two billion doses by the end of 2021.

However, because of production problems, export bans and vaccine hoarding by the wealthier nations, it has continually cut its forecasts.

We can take a look at what countries are donating large amounts of vaccines by looking at Our World In Data.

Donations are broken down by whether they have only been pledged, donated to COVAX or actually shipped to a recipient country.

Out of the 100 million doses it has pledged, the United Kingdom has altogether donated 26.2 million doses as of 8 December 2021.

This can be compared to countries such as the United States who pledged 857.5 million, of which 193 million have been donated.

France has pledged 120 million and has donated 75 million doses to recipient countries.

Italy has also donated 100% of its pledge of 50.3 million vaccine doses.

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For the total number of donations, the UK is behind on the amount of vaccines it has donated compared to its neighbouring countries France, Germany and Spain.

Just comparing the overall number of donations and pledged donations may be unfair, however, due to the vast differences in wealth and size of the population between nations.

When looking at the data for Covid vaccine doses donated to COVAX relative to the size of a country’s economy, Spain is leading the way.

As of 8 December, Spain had announced 35.7 doses per million dollars of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – a measure of the size of its economy – of which 34.9 doses per million have been actually donated to date.

Whereas the United Kingdom announced 38 doses per million dollars of GDP, of which only 10 doses per million have actually been donated.

What do experts think of the current global rollout?

Professor Preston said we must get “vaccine manufacturing into all regions of the world to give independence to those regions in terms of being able to vaccinate their own populations”.

He said: “Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on the inequalities in so many different aspects of our global community. We need to make sure that those vaccines are readily available and are being implemented worldwide - it’s going to take some time to do that.”

“I think it has highlighted that in order to deal with both this pandemic and future pandemics the global ability to manufacture and distribute vaccines needs to be strengthened tremendously,” he added.

Dr Ingram urges a focus on the global vaccine rollout to prevent future variants and strains developing.

“If we allow the virus to run unchecked we are going to get more variants developing and we’ve seen what happens and it’s only going to be a matter of time until vaccine resistant strains emerge,” she said.

She added: “It’s really important we tackle this globally.”

Professor Young said: “We keep hearing the mantra that ‘none of us are safe, until all of us are safe’ and this is absolutely the case.

“It is vital (and in our self-interest) to do as much as possible to support the rollout of vaccines across the world.”

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