TWO MONTHS AFTER a British grandmother became the first person in the world to receive an approved vaccine, shortfalls are plaguing production and distribution facilities in Europe and North America. Production involves two steps: making the actual vaccine and placing it in vials. For the AstraZeneca vaccine—the vaccine of choice in places like Africa because it only requires refrigeration, not the sub-zero conditions necessary for others—each step can take up to 60 days. Company officials in Europe say they are struggling to complete the first step in quantity.
Forecasters continue to believe that most developed nations will reach mass COVID-19 immunization by the end of this year. But they have downgraded expectations for 84 poor countries, saying most will not achieve mass immunity until late 2022 or even 2023.
South Africa is paying $5.25 per dose—more than twice as much as EU countries reportedly paid AstraZeneca at $2.19 per dose.
That leaves exposed some of the most heavily populated parts of the world, and some of the most restive. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria are countries likely waiting more than a year for vaccine doses.
In South America, only Argentina, Chile, and Brazil have vaccination programs underway. Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador could be a year or more away from vaccination coverage, yet are among the countries experiencing some of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world.
In Africa, only five of 54 countries are likely to see vaccines this year: South Africa, Morocco, Seychelles, Egypt, and Guinea. Apart from clinical trials, only 25 people in all of sub-Saharan Africa had received a COVID-19 vaccine by Feb. 1, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Fearing production shortfalls for their own countries, European leaders in late January imposed export restrictions on the Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world and maker of the vaccine developed jointly by AstraZeneca with Oxford University. At the same time, press reports revealed South Africa was paying $5.25 per dose—more than twice as much as EU countries reportedly paid AstraZeneca at $2.19 per dose. That’s after South Africa agreed last year to host clinical trials for the vaccine in a bid to bring down costs.