In contrast, Covax – a push supported by the World Health Organization – for equal distribution – aims to ensure enough doses to cover up to 20 percent of the population in participating countries by the end of 2021, but it may not meet the relatively modest target , experts warn.
The gap between the “have” and “have-nots” vaccine widens, promotes frustration and potentially expands the pandemic.
So far, vaccination has been dominated by a handful of relatively wealthy nations: especially Israel, where nearly 57 percent of the population was fully vaccinated per capita. April 7; Chile, about 22 percent; and the United States. The UK has also vaccinated quickly, but it has delayed the second dose as it tries to get a first for as many people as possible.
Meanwhile, based on publicly reported data, Our World in Data estimates that at least 5 percent of the global population has had a dose, with the real number (which includes China’s non-public figures) perhaps between 6 and 7 percent.
Priority supply agreements, export restrictions and other means of storage from rich nations have contributed to a severe global supply knot, leaving many countries to shrink.
Covax has delivered 38 million doses, providing potentially life-saving shots to places and people who might otherwise go without. Yet divided between 100 economies, these doses form only a thin layer of protection.
“It has been encouraging to see a small number of doses reaching countries around the world,” said Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. “But the big picture is more worrying than reassuring because we have a lot of things that are not going well.”
While the United States administers millions of vaccinations a day, some countries are still waiting for their first shot to arrive, or have just begun vaccinating. A recent WHO estimate suggested that only 2 percent of the 690 million doses administered globally to date went to Africa.
A chorus of experts and officials have – for several months – argued that rich countries have not only a moral obligation to close the gap, but also an interest in doing so. With a fraction of the world’s population vaccinated, they claim the global economy will not recover and the virus will mutate and spread.
Finance Minister Janet Yellen on Monday called for speeding up distribution to poorer nations, warning that the pandemic could force 150 million people into poverty and hurt growth.
“Our first task must clearly be to stop the virus by ensuring that vaccinations, tests and therapy are available as far as possible,” she said in comments submitted to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The same day, while introducing a new coordinator for global coronavirus response and health security, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken addressed the danger of variants.
“Even if we vaccinate all 332 million people in the United States tomorrow, we would still not be completely sure of the virus, not while it is still replicating around the world and becoming new variants that could easily come here and spread across our society again,” ” he said.
Still, Blinken defended the efforts to vaccinate the Americans first, suggesting that further action would have to wait until the United States was more secure in its vaccine supply.
“I know many countries are asking the United States to do more, some with growing desperation because of the scale and scale of their coveted emergencies,” he said. “We hear you. And I promise we’m moving as fast as we can. ”
The woman he introduced as the new global coronavirus response coordinator, Gayle Smith, served as CEO of the ONE campaign, a nonprofit organization that has encouraged wealthy countries to donate 5 percent of their excess doses once they have vaccinated 20 percent of their population.
For its part, the Biden administration announced the “loan” of a total of 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine – not yet approved by US regulators – to Mexico and Canada. However, it is not clear if or when the administration will offer a larger share of the hundreds of millions of surplus doses the country has secured.
A recent study of 788 Americans by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found strong support for the idea of donating 10 percent or more of the U.S. supply to less prosperous countries, but views were divided on the timing. While 41 percent of respondents said donations should happen right away, 28 percent would wait until Americans at risk had been vaccinated, and 31 percent said donations should only happen after everyone in the U.S. who wanted to stay vaccinated, had been.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February offered to donate doses to 20 foreign allies, but the plan was put on hold in light of domestic setbacks and lawsuits.
The Biden administration’s progress so far has focused on long-term efforts to strengthen global rollout.
In February, the White House threw its support behind Covax and announced funding of up to $ 4 billion. Including an initial contribution of $ 2 billion, approved by Congress in December.
And last month, the United States, India, Japan and Australia promised to produce and distribute up to 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines along with a focus on Southeast Asia. But the timeline is long with a goal of getting things started by the end of next year.
The Biden administration has so far resisted pressure to relinquish patent protection in a way that would allow more countries to manufacture coronavirus vaccines.
New statements from Blinken, however, suggest that there may be some new initiative on the way.
“The clock is ticking,” said Moon, “and the situation is not getting any better.”