23 high-income countries will miss WHO’s COVID vaccination target
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US, April 19, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
- Last year, the WHO set a target for all countries in the world to vaccinate 70% of their respective populations against COVID-19 by the first half of 2022.
- According to a WHO tracker, 88 high-income and upper-middle-income countries have yet to vaccinate 70% of their population.
- Vaccination rates in 23 of those countries – including the United States – are such that they will not meet the WHO target.
- The United States is one of the countries set to miss the target – even though it was widely accused in 2021 of hoarding vaccines at the expense of poorer countries.
2022 is almost four months away – but even now 166 countries have yet to vaccinate 70% of their respective populations with COVID-19 vaccines.
Last year, the WHO said it was aiming to achieve this target by the first half of 2022. The UN body had also estimated that at least 40% of people in each of these countries would have received their vaccines by the end of 2021. But no less than 78 countries have not yet reached this goal, according to a WHO tracker.
More than 86% of India adult population has been fully vaccinated so far.
Most of the countries that did not meet their target are low- and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs). According to data from the WHO and the world Bank, they are far from the WHO objectives. The World Bank has also identified 34 countries where the percentage of the population fully immunized ranges from 0.58% to 22%.
For most of the pandemic (so far), these countries have been limited by the non-availability of vaccines – a result of vaccine nationalism and apartheid. But today, these countries are most grappling with the challenges of organizing vaccination campaigns.
Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the WHO director-general, described the search for a solution to this problem as a “big hill to climb” at a press conference on March 30, 2022. Before criticizing these countries, it is crucial to examine the roots of their problems.
Vaccine nationalism in early 2021 “allowed all kinds of problems to escalate. Number one: incomplete preparations – because [the economically poorer countries] weren’t sure the vaccines were coming,” Aylward said.
This uncertainty has prevented these governments from properly planning and organizing mass vaccination campaigns. Such planning is necessary primarily because the vaccines all had different storage requirements and expiry dates. Governments should also train health workers, engage community members with good communication and raise awareness.
When high-income countries procured more than enough doses, vaccine manufacturers began to “throw away” the remaining doses in those countries. As a result, many countries had to reject several otherwise viable doses simply because they would not be consumed before their expiration date.
According to the WHO tracker, less than 20% of older people have been vaccinated in 10 African countries. In at least six countries on the same continent, less than 40% of healthcare workers have been fully immunized.
However, not all countries that are on track to meet the WHO COVID-19 vaccination countries are less economically developed.
Also in trouble
Along with the United States, 88 high-income (HIC) and upper-middle-income countries have yet to vaccinate 70% of their population, according to the WHO tracker. Worse still, vaccination rates in 23 of them – including the United States – indicate they will not meet the WHO target.
There have been many discussions that LMICs are missing their vaccination targets, but HICs have flown under the radar.
The latter countries cannot blame vaccine shortages. Instead, their biggest problem is probably vaccine hesitancy. Studies in United States and Great Britain unearthed evidence of such hesitation rooted in distrust of government and (scientifically unfounded) doubts about vaccine safety.
In India itself, most of those left to be vaccinated are in rural parts of the country, where the public health system has traditionally marginalized people and where misinformation has spread unchecked.