On 14 December 2021, Baroness Sugg (Conservative) is due to ask the Government “how many of the 100 million Covid-19 vaccines they have committed to donate to the rest of the world have been distributed and where they have been sent”.
Does the world have equal access to Covid-19 vaccinations?
Access to Covid-19 vaccines has been unequal. As of 7 December 2021, an estimated 55.3% of the world population had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. However, this figure masks significant variation by country income level. Vaccination data from Our World in Data, a project led by the UK-based non-profit organisation Global Change Data Lab in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oxford, showed that the share of people who received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as at this date was:
- 75% of people from high-income countries;
- 76% of people from upper middle-income countries;
- 45% of people from lower middle-income countries; and
- 6% of people from low-income countries
The graph below shows Our World in Data’s information on the share of people who have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine by country income classification, as of 10 December 2021.
What are the potential risks of unequal vaccine access?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that to safely achieve global immunity against Covid-19, a substantial proportion of the population will need to be vaccinated. Although the exact percentage needed to achieve this immunity is unknown and will likely vary in different communities and depend on other factors, the WHO highlights that immunity against measles and polio require about 95% and 80% of populations to be vaccinated.
The director general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, warned in an article for the Telegraph published in September 2020 that ending a global pandemic requires a world effort and equalising access to vaccines would be essential. They said “none of us will be safe until everyone is safe. Global access to coronavirus vaccines, tests and treatments for everyone who needs them, anywhere, is the only way out”.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also argued that a global approach is needed in a global crisis. The OECD highlighted that whilst the rapid development of effective Covid‑19 vaccines was an “extraordinary achievement”, governments should act collectively to accelerate vaccination in all countries to “maximise the number of lives saved” and “bring the pandemic under control by slowing transmission and reducing the likelihood of the emergence of viral variants of concern”.
The United Nations (UN) has also commented on the risks of inequitable vaccine distribution. It has highlighted that apart from the ethical argument that no country or citizen is more deserving of health care, unequal access to vaccines will “leave millions of people vulnerable to Covid-19” and allow “more deadly variants to emerge and spread across the globe”.
What has been done to try to improve global access to Covid-19 vaccinations?
The WHO and other organisations launched the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator in April 2020. The WHO said the ACT Accelerator was a “ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines”.
Covax is the vaccines pillar of the ACT Accelerator. It is co-led by global vaccine alliance Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the WHO. Covax aims to “accelerate the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world”. UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, is leading the distribution of vaccines on behalf of Covax and states that the Covax delivery programme is the “largest vaccine supply operation ever”.
Covax is funded through donors. Gavi, a co-leader of the programme, has said that doses for lower-income economies would be largely funded through Official Development Assistance (ODA) as well as through contributions from the private sector and philanthropy. In April 2021, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirmed that providing funding to Covax would continue to be a priority for the UK’s ODA programme in 2021/22.
How has the UK contributed?
How many vaccine doses has the UK pledged?
Ahead of the G7 summit in June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged that the UK would donate 100 million surplus Covid-19 vaccine doses to the world by June 2022. Mr Johnson said:
As a result of the success of the UK’s vaccine programme we are now in a position to share some of our surplus doses with those who need them. In doing so we will take a massive step towards beating this pandemic for good.
The Government has said that the vaccines pledged would be drawn from the UK’s stocks and expected deliveries of various vaccines. At the time of the announcement, the Government said that the “precise cost of the vaccines will be determined in due course based on which vaccines make up the contribution”.
In June 2021, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the UK would begin donating doses in September. The Government also committed to donating more in the coming year, primarily to Covax:
The UK will donate 5 million doses by the end of September, beginning in the coming weeks, primarily for use in the world’s poorest countries. The Prime Minister has also committed to donating a further 95 million doses within the next year, including 25 million more by the end of 2021. 80% of the 100 million doses will go to Covax and the remainder will be shared bilaterally with countries in need.
How many of the 100 million doses pledged has the UK delivered?
Statistics on how many of the 100 million doses pledged have been delivered varies across different sources. The UK Government states that at least 20 to 30.6 million doses will have been delivered by the end of 2021, whilst statistics from Our World in Data and UNICEF suggest that between 8 and 16 million UK-donated doses have been delivered to recipient countries to date with almost 20 million still in transit.
In a press release published on 30 October 2021, the Government announced that the UK had donated 20 million more Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to countries in need. The release announced that the UK had sent a further 10 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to Covax and added that “10 million more [were] due to be delivered in the coming weeks”. The Government said that together with 20 million doses of the Janssen vaccine and a further 20 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine pledged for 2022, this would mean 70% of the 100 million doses pledged either had been or would be delivered.
On 6 December 2021, George Freeman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, responded to a written question on the UK’s contribution to Covax. He said that the UK had donated over 20 million doses of AstraZeneca bilaterally and through Covax to over 30 countries.
Statistics from Our World in Data on Covid-19 vaccination doses donated to Covax, using source data from Covax and the ACT Accelerator Hub, show that the UK had, as of 29 November 2021, pledged a total of 100 million doses to Covax. These consisted of:
- 8 million doses pledged but not yet donated to Covax;
- 2 million doses donated to Covax but not yet delivered to a recipient country; and
- 8 million doses delivered to a recipient country by Covax.
Statistics from UNICEF’s Covid-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard indicate that the UK has donated nearly 30 million doses both through Covax and to countries bilaterally, with just over 16 million doses having been delivered. This dashboard has been created by UNICEF, with data “produced and processed from sources believed to be reliable”.
Where have the vaccines been sent?
Statistics from UNICEF’s Covid-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard as of 7 December 2021 show that of the 16 million doses donated by the UK and delivered by Covax or bilaterally, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, and Pakistan have received the most. The UK has delivered a total of over 1 million doses to each of these countries bilaterally and through Covax, including:
- 5,640,240 doses to the Philippines
- 1,664,640 doses to Ethiopia
- 1,292,640 doses to Nigeria
- 1,257,600 doses to Rwanda
- 1,224,040 doses to Kenya
- 1,008,000 doses to Pakistan
A table displaying how many Covid-19 vaccine doses have been donated and delivered by the UK to different countries across the world, as compiled by UNICEF, can be found at the end of this article.
What commentary has there been?
There has been mixed support for the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses the UK Government has pledged and delivered. Some sections of the press have criticised the Government for pledging but not delivering many doses, whilst discussions in Parliament have questioned the Government’s timescales for delivery.
In September 2021, the Telegraph reported that the UK was near the top of a “league table of shame”, for delivering only a small percentage of vaccine doses pledged. This was based on statistics from Our World in Data on Covid-19 vaccination doses donated to Covax. The article reported that as at mid-September 2021, the UK had made the second largest pledge of vaccines after the United States but had only delivered 6% of the 80 million doses pledged to Covax at the time. According to more recent statistics from Our World in Data on Covid-19 vaccination doses donated to Covax, dated 29 November 2021, this has now risen to 8% of doses pledged having been delivered. These updated statistics also show that at least a further 18% of the doses pledged have been donated to Covax but not yet delivered to a recipient country.
Following a an update on Covid-19 in the House of Commons on 6 December2021, Dr Philippa Whitford (Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Health and Social Care) asked whether the Government would accelerate their donations to Covax. She said:
The UK Government promised to deliver 100 million doses by next summer, but have so far delivered fewer than 10 million and, shamefully, destroyed 600,000 doses in August. It is estimated that the UK will be left with almost 100 million excess doses, so will this Government not accelerate their donations to Covax?
Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, responded that the UK “can be proud of its commitment to vaccine donations”. He said the Government had delivered 22 million vaccine donations to the developing world and would meet its commitment of donating 100 million doses by June 2022.
In August 2021, Gavi reported on the delivery of the UK’s first vaccine donations to African countries. At the time, Sajid Javid said:
The UK is proud to be a major supporter of Covax and the crucial work it does in getting vaccines to countries that need them most. The five million doses donated to Covax are part of our pledge to contribute 100 million vaccines within the next year to help accelerate global access, and it’s fantastic that from today the doses will be making a difference to millions of lives. I am hugely grateful to the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca for producing this vaccine at cost—after all, we are not safe from Covid-19 until the whole world is safe.
Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, added:
The Government of the United Kingdom has been one of global vaccination’s strongest advocates and an early supporter of Covax. Dose donations play an important part in Covax’s mission, especially now as we wait for deliveries to ramp up aggressively in the weeks to come. These deliveries will have a direct impact on protecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Further information: Covid-19 vaccine doses donated and delivered by the UK
|Recipient||Mechanism||Vaccine name||Manufacturer||Donated doses||Doses delivered|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Bilateral||Vaxzevria||AstraZeneca||12,000||12,000|
|Congo (DRC)||Through COVAX||Vaxzevria||AstraZeneca||51,840||51,840|
|Viet Nam||Through COVAX||Vaxzevria||AstraZeneca||1,955,520|
Source: UNICEF’s Covid-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard, accessed 7 December 2021