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22 January 2021updated 28 Aug 2021 8:49pm

How richer countries are leaving poorer ones behind in the Covid-19 vaccine race

Our international coronavirus tracker shows that no low-income country has started vaccinating its population.

By Michael Goodier

More than two thirds of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered worldwide have taken place in high-income countries, while no low-income country has started injecting its population.

A New Statesman analysis of vaccination rollout data – compiled as part of our international coronavirus tracker – shows that poorer nations are yet to begin vaccinations, and of the countries that have started vaccinating, the vast majority of doses have been given in higher-income nations.

Some 67 per cent of doses so far have been delivered in countries classed as high-income by the World Bank. A further 32 per cent have taken place in upper-middle-income countries, while 1 per cent have taken place in lower-middle-income nations. No country classed as low-income has started injecting its population, according to the latest figures compiled by Our World in Data.


The disparity between rich and poor also exists in the number of doses purchased from drug companies around the world that have not yet been administered. 

Figures collected by Duke University Global Health Innovation Center show that more economically developed nations have secured the vast majority of reserved doses, with more than four billion reserved for high-income nations.

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However, there was encouraging news last week as the first direct vaccine purchases were made for low-income countries. The African Union secured 270 million Covid-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson, with all doses to be made available this year.


The figures for low-income countries also don’t include Covax doses. Covax is a WHO programme that pools international funds to buy vaccines and equally distribute them. 

Lower-income countries signed up to Covax will receive vaccines to cover 20 per cent of their population at no cost. However, this will not be enough to reach “herd immunity” levels, which require around 70 per cent of the population to be vaccinated.

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Israel leads on vaccination – but rising deaths show lockdowns are still needed

Israel is currently leading in terms of the proportion of population that have received a jab, having injected 35.4 vaccine doses for every 100 people living there. 

Both Bahrain (8.5) and the UAE (21.9) have also achieved speedy vaccine rollouts, according to figures collated by Our World In Data. More than 4.5 million people have now received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the UK – equalling 7.5 doses per every 100 people.

In terms of absolute numbers, the US (16.5 million) and China (15.0 million) have vaccinated the most people, followed by the UK.

Recent Covid-19 figures from Israel highlight the continued importance of social distancing measures even as jabs are given. Yesterday (21 January), the country saw a record high of both cases (10,213) and deaths (101), despite being the global vaccine leader.

The UK, which is also among the vaccination leaders, yesterday (21 January) registered a record daily number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test, at 1,820.


You can check the latest global figures on cases and deaths using the New Statesman’s international Covid-19 tracker here.

The deaths occurring now are a result of infections that happened around a month ago, due to the time it takes for the illness to progress and data to be reported.

However, the high figures underline how important it is that restrictions aren’t eased prematurely, which would create another wave of infections, overwhelmed hospital wards, and deaths, just as the way out of the pandemic offered by mass vaccination comes into in sight.

[see also: The high street Covid-19 vaccine scandal: Why is the government overlooking pharmacies that could vaccinate a million people a week?]