At the end of 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) said goodbye to the second year of the coronavirus pandemic with a new unfulfilled goal: that 40% of the population in each territory be vaccinated with two doses. With the premise that 2022 would be better, the institution led by Tedros Adhanom continued with the new goal – which was already on the horizon since the end of 2020 –: ensure that all countries have 70% of their population immunized by the middle of the year.
“I’m still optimistic that this may be the year, not only of the end of the acute phase of the pandemic, but also in which we lead the way to stronger health security ”, Adhanom wielded a few months ago. However, the expectation has not been fulfilled and that mark, which expired on July 1, has not materialized.
All of Africa, much of Asia and different parts of Europe, America and Oceania are in ‘red’, that is, far from achieving that desired 70%. Large countries such as the United States or Russia, which were among the first to inoculate doses, still do not have their population vaccinated, despite attempts by various governments to promote vaccination. In other cases, such as Nigeria, Cameroon or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some of the most populated territories on the African continent, the percentage of the complete guideline does not reach two figures.
Speaking of fourth doses when the first are still scarce
The truth is initiatives have not been lacking to try to meet this and other objectives throughout the pandemic. With data from Gavi, the Vaccination Alliance, it is estimated that until the first quarter of 2022 they were delivered thanks to the Mechanism for Global Access to COVID-19 Vaccines (COVAXfor its acronym in English) over 2.5 billion doses; UNICEF raises the figure to 2,800 million.
Even with these efforts and after a year and a half of a worldwide vaccination campaign, differences between territories continue. Of the more than 12,000 million doses that have been administered in these months, a large part have fallen in the richest countries, while in those with lower incomes the situation is very different.
To delve into the inequality of the race for vaccination, in many countries a third round of vaccination began – more than 2,000 million boosters have been administered – while in other territories the first doses had barely begun. And when the minimum global objectives have not been achieved, in developed countries the fourth puncture is a reality.
The European Medicines Agency (EMAfor its acronym in English) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDCidem) recommend it for the elderly, hence countries like Spain have given the green light to these inoculations.
“If rich countries are vaccinating six-month-olds and planning to administer fourth doses, it is incomprehensible to suggest that territories with lower incomes should not vaccinate and inoculate booster doses to the vulnerable population and work to strengthen their immunity”, lamented Tedros Adhanom.
Why is it still necessary to vaccinate everyone?
The former director of Health Action in Crisis Situations of the World Health Organization, Daniel Lopez-Acuna, has been blunt about these inequalities in statements to DatosRTVE. He also claims that the relaxation of patentsrecommended by the COVAX Independent Evaluation Group (IAVG), has not been produced, which has prevented “a much broader production of vaccines” and slowed progress in global immunization.
López-Acuña also highlights another reality: “Many countries do not have access to vaccines, but there are also many countries that do not have health systems with the capacity to vaccinate massivelyand have not received support and reinforcements [para ello]”.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) gives two data in this regard: while the territories with more resources only need to increase their health spending by 0.8% to achieve 70% immunity , In the territories with fewer facilities, investment shoots up to 56.6%a gap that is vital to reduce.
The following map, although it is an estimate to achieve 40% vaccination with two doses, gives clues to where it is necessary to increase health spending urgently.
And because? To continue saving lives. A study of the scientific magazine The Lancet estimates that, thanks to coronavirus vaccines, between 14.4 and 19.8 million deaths were averted –The estimates fluctuate if only official data are taken into account, that is, deaths with a diagnostic test, or if data are analyzed for excess mortality; the latter are more ‘reliable’, especially in countries with less detection capacity or at specific times, when the different health systems were overwhelmed by the different waves–.
Despite the good news, the authors of the analysis also send a message to rich countries: if 40% of the immunized population had been reached in each country, Some 600,000 more deaths would have been prevented.
“As long as there is not enough vaccination and adequate control of the incidence throughout the world, we are going to continue to have a pandemic because there is an interdependence and no country is an epidemiological island”, summarizes López-Acuña.