The coronavirus pandemic continues to test humanitarian responses, while the world faces questions about how to ensure equal access to vaccines.
As of December 2021, 8 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered around the world, but the majority have been in high-income and upper-middle income countries, according to the World Health Organization. It’s unclear when – and in some cases, how – vaccines will be widely available for people caught in crisis zones. The COVID-19 pandemic is driving record-breaking humanitarian needs: Global aid response plans willl reach more than $41 billion in 2022.
Below you’ll find data exploring coronavirus trends and vaccine issues in key crisis areas, a table showing the worldwide picture, and a global map with select stories.
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Trends in key crises
The pandemic doubled the number of people who needed humanitarian aid worldwide in 2020, according to the UN, setting up a record $35 billion appeal in 2021. COVID-19 continues to contribute to record-setting humanitarian costs, with a $41 billion price tag set for 2022.
Beyond the immediate humanitarian impacts, the cost of helping the world's most vulnerable 10 percent facing COVID-19's socio-economic repercussions could total $90 billion, according to UN estimates. The World Bank estimates the pandemic pushed between 119 million and 124 million “new poor” into extreme poverty.
Vaccines: Queue-jumping, unequal rollouts, and humanitarian stockpiles
There’s a clear divide in who has access to coronavirus vaccines.
Warnings of “vaccine nationalism”, hoarding, and queue-jumping came to fruition as wealthier countries scooped up early supplies. Repeat waves and dangerous new variants have festered amid the uneven vaccine distribution.
Most of the 8 billion doses administered globally as of December 2021 were in high- and upper-middle income countries, according to the World Health Organization.
“We all know that this incredible achievement has been marred by horrific inequity,” said the WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The WHO inked agreements to reserve some 1.3 billion doses for 92 low- and middle-income countries under the COVAX programme, which was created with the goal of ensuring equal vaccine access, including doses for at least 20 percent of countries’ populations.
But wealthier countries circumvented COVAX by signing dozens of bilateral deals with manufacturers – driving up prices and delaying COVAX deliveries.
Countries began receiving their first COVAX doses in late February and early March. Initial planning called for some 330 million doses – enough to cover 3.3 percent of participating countries’ populations – in the first half of 2021. In March, India restricted exports to deal with its worsening second wave, adding to global shortages. India’s Serum Institute was slated to supply 70 percent of COVAX’s initial pipeline.
Dose deliveries picked up speed in July and August as wealthier nations that bought up early supplies began donating excess jabs.
There are many factors driving global vaccine shortfalls and slow rollouts. There’s also a worldwide shortage of the raw materials needed to produce vaccines, which has affected all manufacturers, for example. Trade barriers, export controls, and logistics have created bottlenecks that restrict global supply and distribution.
Despite having access to limited stocks, some countries have struggled to get their rollouts off the ground because of weak healthcare infrastructure, inadequate funding, or vaccine hesitancy. Most jabs donated by wealthier countries are also close to expiry, with a shelf life of less than three months – making it harder to conduct vaccine rollouts on short notice.
There’s not enough focus on how to distribute vaccines once they arrive – moving doses from airport tarmacs and into people’s arms – the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns.
There’s not enough focus on how to distribute vaccines once they arrive – moving doses from airport tarmacs and into people’s arms.
Beyond vaccine access at the country level, there are fears that marginalised groups often left out of government health planning at the best of times – migrants, refugees, and other people in crises, for example – are at the very back of the queue. Some 60 to 80 million people live in areas controlled by non-state armed groups, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimates.
“Those living in humanitarian emergencies or in settings that are not under the control of national governments are at risk of being left behind and must be part of COVID-19 vaccination efforts,” warned the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, an umbrella group for humanitarian responders. Some 167 million people worldwide could be excluded from COVID-19 vaccination programmes, the IASC estimates.
At least 91 of 162 countries monitored by the UN’s refugee agency had started vaccinating refugees or asylum seekers as of late June. Jordan, Nepal, Rwanda, and Serbia were among countries where refugees were receiving COVID-19 vaccines “on an equal footing to citizens”, the UNHCR said in April. At least 123 countries include refugees in their immunisation plans on paper, but in practice, vaccine shortages, shorthanded health systems, red tape, or fear of arrest also keep refugees and migrants on the outside.
The COVAX programme includes plans for a “humanitarian buffer”, which would see five percent of the total doses stockpiled for “acute outbreaks” or for use by humanitarian groups. The buffer was formally approved by the board of Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, on 23 March. The buffer is a “last resort” for people with no access to vaccines – especially in areas controlled by armed groups that are out of reach of government health systems. Countries can apply for vaccines from the buffer, as can humanitarian groups – including UN agencies, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, local and international NGOs, and civil society groups. Assuming COVAX secures its goal of two billion doses in 2021, the humanitarian buffer would equate to 100 million doses. The costs of actually delivering vaccines from this stockpile aren’t clear – current global humanitarian appeals do not include vaccine rollout costs. Drug manufacturers also want aid groups to take on legal liabilities if they source vaccines through the buffer – an early stumbling block in getting the would-be stockpile up and running.
The following sortable data shows the share of people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine dose. Countries with no information available are not displayed. The information is gathered by Our World in Data, a project run by University of Oxford researchers.
The global picture
Search this map for stats from specific countries, and click on the green markers for select humanitarian coverage from around the globe:
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