Quarter of World's Population Won't Access COVID Vaccine Until 2022

Almost a quarter of the world's population will not have access to a COVID-19 vaccine until 2022, according to new research published in the United Kingdom.

Experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, U.S., said high-income countries have already secured billions of doses, with uncertainty around access for middle and low-income countries.

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), they said that of the 48 COVID-19 vaccines currently approved or in development, 13 manufacturers have entered into agreements for at least 7.48 billion doses*.

"High-income countries, including the European Union bloc, have reserved 51 percent of these doses, or around 3.85 billion doses, though they comprise only 13.7 percent of the world's population," the researchers said. "Of the 13 manufacturers, only six have sold to low and middle-income countries." They said these six include AstraZeneca/Oxford University and Novavax.

The experts warned that, even if manufacturers meet all their production goals, people in poorer countries could face a long wait. "By the end of 2021, up to 40 percent of COVID-19 vaccine courses from leading manufacturers might potentially remain for low and middle-income countries – less if high-income countries scale up existing purchases, more if these countries share what they have procured," they said.

"Even if these leading manufacturers were all to succeed in reaching their projected maximum production capacity, nearly a quarter of the world's population would not have access to a vaccine until at least 2022."

The uncertainty over global access to vaccines stems not just from the fact they are still being tested, but from a "failure of governments and vaccine manufacturers to be more transparent and accountable over these arrangements, from fair pricing to equitable allocation", they added.

The U.K. has joined the international Covax drive which aims to boost equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. Oxford-AstraZeneca said it aims to provide 64 percent of its doses to people in developing nations. It is being developed on a not-for-profit basis, making it a cheaper and easier option as it can be stored at fridge temperature.

According to the Johns Hopkins researchers, Covax has made initial purchases of 300 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca/Oxford University, plus an additional 200 million doses from either AstraZeneca/Oxford University or Novavax, all with a ceiling price of three US dollars (£2.26) per dose.

But this adds up to a quarter of the at least two billion doses sought by Covax by the end of 2021, leaving them 75 percent short, they said.

"This study provides an overview of how high-income countries have secured future supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, but that access for the rest of the world is uncertain," the researchers said. "Governments and manufacturers might provide much-needed assurances for the equitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccines through greater transparency and accountability over these arrangements."

It comes after a coalition of human rights groups accused wealthy nations of "hoarding" doses of COVID vaccines at the expense of the world's poorest.

The People's Vaccine Alliance made up of Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam, said nearly 70 lower-income countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people next year, while rich countries have bought enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over by the end of 2021 if all the vaccines currently in clinical trials are approved.

It is calling on all pharmaceutical corporations working on COVID-19 vaccines to openly share their technology and intellectual property so that billions of doses can be manufactured and made available to everyone who needs them through the World Health Organization COVID-19 technology access pool.

Dr. Marina Del Rios receives COVD vaccine
Dr. Marina Del Rios receives Chicago's first COVID-19 vaccination from Dr. Nikhila Juvvadi at Loretto Hospital, on December 15 Jose M. Osorio/Getty

A second study in the BMJ estimates that 3.7 billion adults worldwide are willing to have a COVID-19 vaccine. The British government said more than 137,000 people in the U.K. received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the first week of its vaccination program.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the first vaccine to be authorized for use by the U.K. medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Patients require two doses of the vaccine - 21 days apart – for the vaccine to be fully effective.

Meanwhile, Britain's spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) has estimated that vaccinating the U.K. against COVID-19 will cost taxpayers £11.7 billion ($15bn).

This will go on the purchase and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines for the U.K. as well as global efforts to find a vaccine, the NAO said.

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as 40 million of the Pfizer, seven million of the Moderna, 60 million of Valneva SE, and 60 million of the Novavax Inc jabs.

*Study Methodology & Notes

Researchers used publicly available information on COVID-19 vaccines that had been announced by November 15, 2020, to analyse which countries have reserved vaccines, which manufacturers have committed to supply these vaccines, and the potential destination of the vaccine doses.

The study focuses on premarket purchase commitments as part of deals or contracts for COVID-19 vaccines made before regulatory approval of these products based on completion of a phase three clinical trial.