We might be ready for the pandemic to be over, but it looks set to be with us for a long while yet.
The World Health Organization has said that COVID-19 will continue deep into 2022 as countries across the global south have been left abandoned in the vaccination rollout.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior leader at the WHO, said the COVID crisis will loom a “year longer than it needs to” as poorer countries are not getting the help they need.
According to The People’s Vaccine charity alliance, less than 5% of Africa’s population has been vaccinated, compared to 40% of most other countries.
In the U.K., nearly 66% of the whole population has been fully vaccinated. In the European Union, the figure is about 62%, and in the U.S., 55%.
But more than 50 countries have missed the target set by WHO, of getting 10% of the population inoculated.
High-conflict countries such as Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar have been unable to get their programs off the ground while natural disasters have also halted progress in countries such as Haiti.
Delivery delays, smaller pools of manufacturing facilities, and wealthy countries hoarding vaccines (Germany had halted its use of AstraZeneca earlier in the year), has left developing countries without.
The COVAX initiative – which distributes the shots to poorer countries – also suffered when production was stopped in India as the country needed to focus on its own urgent needs.
Aylward said: “I can tell you we’re not on track. We really need to speed it up or you know what? This pandemic is going to go on for a year longer than it needs to.”
He is urging wealthy countries to give up their places in the queue for vaccines so that pharmaceutical companies can prioritize poorer countries first.
The global COVAX program was supposed to be in a better situation — meeting a target of 2 billion doses. However, its progress was sidelined due to other countries cutting the line. Currently, only 371 million doses have been shipped.
The idea behind COVAX was that it would create a pool of vaccines that all countries could access them, even the wealthy ones.
However, as well as getting access to COVAX, countries such as the U.K. and Canada also had their own agreements with vaccine providers, meaning their programs were amped up.
Oxfam’s global health adviser, Rohit Malpani, said such countries were technically entitled to get vaccines through COVAX as they paid into the program but he said it was still “morally indefensible” as they also stockpiled vaccines from their own private agreements.
“They should not have been acquiring these doses from COVAX,” he said. “It’s nothing better than double-dipping and means that poorer countries which are already at the back of the queue, will end up waiting longer.”
Canada has said it has now ceased acquiring COVAX vaccinations while the U.K. said it was one of the countries who had “kick-started” COVAX, with a donation of £548 million ($756 million).