The coronavirus pandemic continues to test humanitarian responses in 2021, while the world faces new questions about how to ensure equal access to vaccines.
Many countries have started rolling out coronavirus vaccines, but it’s unclear when – and in some cases, how – these vaccines will reach people caught in crisis zones. The COVID-19 pandemic is driving record-breaking humanitarian needs: Global aid response plans total more than $35 billion this year.
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.
Data on this page is updated once a day, and other information is revised frequently.
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Trends in key crises
Coronavirus deaths in Africa have jumped by 40 percent in a month, the World Health Organization warned on 11 February, as countries battle contagious new COVID-19 variants.
“Health workers and health systems in Africa are dangerously overstretched,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director.
In 2020, the pandemic doubled the number of people who needed humanitarian aid worldwide, according to the UN, setting up this year’s record $35 billion appeal.
As of February 2021, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, had tallied more than 49,000 COVID-19 cases among refugees and displaced people around the world, including 446 deaths.
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 last year – a shift unlikely to be reversed in 2021.
Vaccines: Queue-jumping, unequal rollouts, and humanitarian stockpiles
There’s a clear divide in who has early access to coronavirus vaccines.
Public health officials warn of “vaccine nationalism”, hoarding, and queue-jumping as wealthier countries buy up early supplies.
“The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” said the WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
As of mid-February, three quarters of all global doses were in only 10 countries, and more than 94 percent of countries beginning vaccinations were high-income or upper-middle-income. Some 130 countries hadn’t yet administered a single dose.
The WHO has 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 Tedros said wealthier countries are circumventing COVAX by signing dozens of bilateral deals with manufacturers – driving up prices and potentially delaying COVAX deliveries. He urged countries to vaccinate health workers and older people, then share excess doses with COVAX.
Countries will receive their first COVAX doses in late February or early March, the WHO and other agencies behind the scheme announced on 3 February. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, the Philippines, Rwanda, and South Africa will be among the first handful to receive vaccines through the programme. Current planning calls for some 330 million doses – enough to cover 3.3 percent of participating countries’ populations – in the first half of 2021.
As of 19 February, funding for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, the WHO-led partnership that includes the COVAX programme, was short $22.9 billion – more than two thirds of the projected budget for 2021.
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 – may be at the very back of the queue.
“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.
The UNHCR says 94 of 130 countries have “committed to include forcibly displaced people” in national vaccination plans.
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. Potential uses could include vaccinating “refugees who may not otherwise have access”, according to Gavi, the global vaccine alliance.
At the same time, vaccine hesitancy is growing around the globe, according to researchers at the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, and could become “the primary obstacle to global immunity”. Researchers pointed to multi-country surveys that suggest rising reluctance to vaccinate. “If this is the case, we will soon find that producing enough vaccines does not translate to enough vaccinations,” the researchers said.
Other vaccine news:
- India’s Serum Institute – the manufacturer providing the bulk of vaccine doses available to low-income countries – is warning of delays to global supplies. The company has been “directed to prioritise the huge needs of India”, CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted on 21 February. It’s unclear how this will affect COVAX distribution plans. The Serum Institute, which is manufacturing a version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, was slated to supply 71 percent of the COVAX doses through mid-2021, according to February forecasts.
- Ghana received 600,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses on 24 February, becoming the first country to receive vaccines through the UN-backed COVAX programme. WHO and UNICEF officials called it a “momentous occasion”. But the first doses in a scheme meant to ensure equal vaccine access came two months after people in wealthier countries started receiving doses. “It’s a very small, late start, when what we need right now is a massive injection of doses to many more countries,” said Kate Elder, vaccine policy advisor with Médecins Sans Frontières.
"It’s a very small, late start, when what we need right now is a massive injection of doses."
- Johnson & Johnson should prioritise lower-income countries rather than sell its vaccine candidate to the highest bidder, Médecins Sans Frontières said on 25 February. The WHO is reviewing the J&J vaccine for emergency use, and the US Food and Drug Administration is also discussing emergency authorisation. J&J has signed tentative agreements to distribute 100 million doses this year through the UN-backed COVAX scheme. But MSF says most of J&J’s stocks are already pledged to wealthy countries. The J&J vaccine requires only one dose – most currently available vaccines need two. It can also be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, making rollouts far easier.
- The United Kingdom is calling for vaccine ceasefires across the globe so that people trapped in conflict zones can be protected against COVID-19. UN Secretary-General António Guterres made similar calls last year as the coronavirus pandemic surged. At the time, a handful of ceasefires were announced, though many were quickly broken. Aid group Oxfam called global peace efforts during the pandemic a “catastrophic failure”.
- The WHO gave a green light to two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on 15 February, clearing the way for the vaccine’s global rollout through the COVAX programme. Most low-income countries are relying on COVAX supplies to drive their early immunisation rollouts, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine represents 99 percent of the programme’s pipeline through mid-2021. COVAX is distributing the first vaccine approved by the WHO for emergency use, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, to only a handful of countries. This is partly due to limited supplies and the difficulties of shipping and storing the vaccine, which requires “ultra-low-temperature” freezers.
- Rohingya refugees are included in Bangladesh’s COVID-19 vaccination plans, a UNHCR spokesperson told TNH. The national vaccination plan began in January in the capital, Dhaka, and will be extended across the country. People older than 40, frontline Rohingya health workers, volunteers, and teachers will be prioritised, according to the WHO. Staff with local and international humanitarian groups will also be considered, and some 15,000 people have already applied to join the queue through a government-run app. The Rohingya refugee camps have a young population – more than half of residents are under 18. There are an estimated 30,000 people older than 60.
- Refugees in Nepal will be included in the country’s vaccination drive, the UNHCR reported on 9 February. Vaccination campaigns started in January, and people older than 55 (and people with ”comorbidities” between 40 and 54) are a second priority after health staff and other frontline workers. “Refugees who meet these conditions will be included,” the UNHCR said. There are at least 19,500 refugees and asylum seekers in Nepal, including people from Bhutan, Tibet, Pakistan, and Myanmar.
- The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be used in countries where troubling new variants are taking hold, a WHO panel recommended on 10 February. Days earlier, South Africa suspended its rollout of the vaccine after one study suggested it was “minimally effective” at preventing mild or moderate cases caused by a COVID-19 variant. The WHO panel said the South Africa study was unable to determine the vaccine’s effect on severe cases. The “known and potential benefits” outweigh the risks, the panel said. The WHO said the emergence of multiple variants showed the importance of equitable vaccine access, and for donors to keep funding research for “next-generation” vaccines.
- Undocumented people in Malaysia will “in principle” receive free COVID-19 vaccines, the country’s minister in charge of immunisation, Khairy Jamaluddin, said on 11 February. Refugees and asylum seekers said they faced arrests and growing xenophobia as coronavirus lockdowns escalated in 2020.
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: