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UK and developed economies worry over pace of vaccine rollout

But many developing countries are left without any vaccines at all

By Ricky Browne

The UK is handling this pandemic crisis in two distinct and contradictory ways.

On one hand, the UK is one of the worst countries in the world – if not the worst – when it comes to Covid-19 deaths per capita, with more than 140 deaths per 100,000 people. On Monday the UK crossed the 100,000 deaths threshold with more than two million deaths from the pandemic globally.

The pandemic seems never ending in London and around the world Photo: AP/ Frank Augstein

On the other hand, the UK is one of the best countries in the world for how quickly it is vaccinating its population. It has now vaccinated more than 6.5 million people, more than 10 percent of the population. Some 200,00 people are being vaccinated in a single day. It is only being held back from increasing the speed of its vaccination programme by the supply – which is having a problem keeping up with demand.

In fact, the UK is way ahead of every country in Europe, and pretty much every country on Earth in terms of percentage – beaten only by the UAE at 25 percent and Israel at 43 percent.

US President Joe Biden gets his vaccine

The only country that has vaccinated more people than the UK is the USA, which has vaccinated some 25 million people. But that represents about seven percent of their population. President Biden has announced that the vaccination rate is to increase to about one million people per day, to reach 100 million people in his first 100 days in office.

Meanwhile, Germany has vaccinated only two percent of its population as has Italy, France about 1.5 percent and India only 0.12 percent.

EXPORT THREAT?

The EU is now concerned that the vaccine providers are not meeting the production levels agreed upon. The situation has got so serious, that the EU has even stated that providers must now inform Brussels in advance before shipping vaccines to third countries.

It was reported that the EU warned it could restrict exports of vaccines made inside the EU. Germany went a little further, with its health minister demanding “fair distribution”.

So far a total of more than 68 million vaccines have been administered across the globe – which sounds like a lot, until you consider that the world population is greater than seven billion.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is in high demand. Photo: Reuters

To ensure that they can vaccinate their entire population, many developed countries have over-ordered on the amount of vaccines they need. The UK for example is said to have ordered 100 million AstraZeneca vaccines, 40 million Pfizer vaccines as well as millions of others that have not yet been approved.

The EU is said to have ordered 600 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Canada is believed to have ordered more vaccines per capita than any other country – equivalent to about eight doses per person.

The Pfizer vaccine is more costly than the AstraZeneca

The UK is believed to have pre-ordered enough vaccines to cover five doses per person.

It is estimated that more than 10 billion anti-Covid-19 vaccines have been ordered globally. Given that most vaccines require two shots, that wouldn’t be enough for the whole world. But its also estimated that the amount has been ordered mainly by the EU and five other rich countries – including the US and UK. In total these countries are equal to only 13 percent of the world population.

So what happens to the other 87 percent? Do they have to wait for good tidings from the developed world?

In the rush for these largely developed economies to vaccinate as many of its citizens as it can, there is another problem on the horizon, and that is the vast number of countries, particularly in the so-called developing world, which are unable to vaccinate anyone yet, because the wealthier countries are sucking up all the available vaccines.

DOWN IN JAMAICA

The issue was recently highlighted by Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

HOLNESS — stop hoarding the vaccine

In a conversation with Bloomberg on the 8th of January, the Prime Minister accused richer countries of “hoarding” the Covid-19 vaccines to the detriment of people in poorer countries.

Rather than wealthy countries stockpiling the shots, the vaccines should be shared across the world “to reach a certain threshold in vaccination in order for us to defeat the virus,” Holness told Bloomberg.

The country does not expect to start vaccinating people until April, and has now released a plan to vaccinate 16 percent of its population of (just under) three million people by the end of the year. And it is unable to plan for more, because it quite simply cannot get the vaccines… not even talking about affordability here.

And Jamaica is far from being the worst country, as some nations aren’t expected to get any vaccines until 2022. For some countries it could be even worse, with some not expected to receive any vaccines until 2023 or even 2024.

To try and get over the scarcity problem, Jamaica has started to look towards supply outside of the three main producers of Astra Zeneca, Pfizer and Moderna. The Caribbean island nation is said to be looking at Chinese vaccines and also laying its hope on a vaccine coming out of the neighbouring island of Cuba.

Cuba, which is well known for its health sector, has been developing a vaccine, but it has not got out of testing yet. Cuba’s Soberana 2 is still in stage two of its testing process, and the vaccine isn’t expected to be available until mid-year – assuming it proves effective.

Cuba is Jamaica’s nearest neighbour – less than 100 miles away at the closest point. Despite a difference in both economic and political systems, the two countries have maintained good relations for most of Jamaica’s independent history – except for a blip when the Cuban ambassador was pronounced persona-non-grata in 1980, during the height of the Cold War.

But Jamaica can’t place all its hopes on a vaccine that might not even come to fruition.

The Cuban vaccine is still being tested

Some other countries have been relying on Chinese vaccines – with the UAE said to be using more of a Chinese vaccine produced by Sinopharm over Pfizer.

But the Chinese vaccine hasn’t done as well in testing as the three more established vaccines orginating largely in the US (Pfizer and Moderna) and UK (AstraZeneca).

According to Chinese state media,  more than 100 countries, largely African ones, have ordered the Sinopham vaccine.

Israel has the highest rate of vaccinations so far

Meanwhile, while it is said that the cost of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be in the region of US$5 per shot, it is reported that Israel has been paying almost US$30 per shot for its Pfizer vaccines. That premium might help to explain how they have been able to obtain as much vaccines as they have – but for countries with very little disposable income, it could be a different story.

So while developed countries worry that they do not have enough vaccines, and that they aren’t getting them at a fast enough rate – developing countries must worry that they aren’t getting any vaccines at all.

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