The Biden administration is expected to recommend Covid-19 booster shots for most Americans about eight months after vaccination, a move that has been criticized by some public health experts concerned about nations offering a third vaccine jab while others are barely able to administer their first.
Though they make up about 20.5% of the global population, the 52 least wealthy countries and regions in the world have about 2.7% of the vaccinations, according to a tracker run by Bloomberg.
There are 13 countries and territories which have less than 1% of their populations even partially inoculated, and another 41 with vaccination rates below 10%, the tracker reveals.
The countries with the lowest vaccination rates in the world are Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Chad, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Benin, Turkmenistan and Madagascar, all of which have less than 0.7% of their populations partially vaccinated.
Though Middle Eastern and Asian nations also make the list, the roster of least vaccinated countries is dominated by places in Africa, where less than 2% of the continent’s 1.3 billion have been fully inoculated as many of its countries were among the last to gain access to vaccines in the past few months.
Despite only receiving 100 million doses to date, The New York Times reported Monday that the South African manufacturing facility set up to boost access in Africa is exporting millions of doses for distribution in Europe.
Inequality is also present in the Western hemisphere: Haiti, the poorest country in the region, only received its first delivery of vaccines on July 15, and has distributed just under 20,000 shots since.
Many of the least vaccinated countries in the world have not had coronavirus outbreaks as severe as richer hot-spots like the U.S. However, experts warn that the tallies in these countries are likely vast undercounts as they lack the infrastructure to properly track infections. Furthermore, places with low rates of vaccination allow for the chance of new, more harmful variants, Gian Ghandi, a COVAX co-ordinator at UNICEF, told the Associated Press. “So, we should be concerned about any lack of coverage anywhere in the world,” he highlighted.
There was a global plan to purchase and provide vaccines to poor and middle-income countries. However, the United Nations-backed program, known as Covax, has fallen far short of its goals, acquiring about half a billion fewer doses than it intended to and delivering just 163 million of its intended 640 million, according to The New York Times. The program was challenged early on in the global rollout when Covax was put in direct competition with wealthy nations vying for a limited supply of doses. Though vaccine manufacturers have offered lower prices for the donated doses, wealthy nations paid premiums and cleared out the early supplies for their own residents, leaving Covax with less immediate financial pledges. The program has since been mired by a litany of logistical issues, like a virus surge in India disrupting deliveries from one of their key manufacturers. Meanwhile, richer nations that have stockpiles of doses have moved to expand their vaccinations to younger demographics (the U.S. is trialing vaccines for kids under 12) and are now increasingly considering booster shots, though many questions about the necessity of a third jab remain unanswered. Some vaccines have proven slightly less effective against the more infectious delta variant, but it is still unclear if protection against severe disease and hospitalization is impacted as well.
Some experts have pointed to the uncertainty over the necessity of booster shots as a reason why richer nations should hold off on offering them. “Large-scale boosting in one rich country would send a signal around the world that boosters are needed everywhere,” Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, and Seth Berkley, the chief executive of global vaccine alliance Gavi, wrote in a Friday op-ed in The Guardian. “This will suck many vaccine doses out of the system, and many more people will die because they never even had a chance to get a single dose.”
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a moratorium on booster shots earlier this month, asking wealthier nations to hold off at least through the end of September. “I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” said WHO Head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
What To Watch For
The U.S., which has already recommended an additional dose for people with weakened immune systems, could announce its new booster recommendation as soon as this week, according to the Associated Press. However, the rollout will reportedly only begin in mid-to-late September. The first booster shots will likely go to nursing home residents, health care workers and elderly Americans, who were also first in line when the vaccine was first rolled out.
59.4%. That’s the percentage of eligible Americans who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with 70% receiving at least one dose, according to a Centers for Disease Control tracker.
“Where a Vast Global Vaccination Program Went Wrong” (The New York Times)
“The prospect of booster shots is igniting a global health debate.” (The New York Times)