The newly-discovered Omicron variant has highlighted the unequal distribution of vaccines and the lack of vaccine accessibility in some of the most vulnerable groups in many lower-income countries across the globe.

Vaccine inequity has amplified the logistical burden, and highlighted the visible cracks in the global healthcare system.

Using data from the Government of Canada and the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, has created a series of charts illustrating the COVID-19 vaccine inequity and the challenges in its global distribution. 

Vaccine Surplus

As of Oct. 28, 2021, only 6 per cent of the population in Africa has been fully vaccinated. In comparison, over 70 per cent of high-income countries such as Canada and the U.S. have already vaccinated more than 40 per cent of their people.

Wealthy countries have purchased far more doses than they need, while supply through COVAX, and bilateral deals have struggled. According to Duke Global Health Innovation Center, 44 per cent of COVID-19 doses have gone to wealthy nations.

Vaccine inequity has always been a concern for the leading agency, World Health Organization (WHO). In his opening remarks earlier this year, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesussaid, “Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time. And we are failing.”

To resolve the issue, WHO,Gavi - the Vaccine Alliance, United Nations Children International Fund (UNICEF), and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, (CEPI) joined hands to launch a program last year called COVAX to seek vaccine donations and address vaccine inequity. With the launch of the program, many developed countries raced to pledge their support, but data shows a lag in the promised shipment. 

While the U.S. has pledged the greatest number of doses, it has managed to only ship 24 per cent of the committed doses as of Dec. 1, 2021. In comparison, Canada has shipped 18 per cent of the total pledged doses, according to data compiled by Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

Through COVAX,Canada has shipped over 8.3 million surplus vaccine doses and over 762,080 AstraZeneca doses through direct, bilateral arrangements with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The updated numbers by the Canadian government starting August this year show Uganda and Rwanda received the largest number of doses (Moderna) through COVAX.

The largest number of doses purchased per inhabitant has been from countries in high-income groups, according to the Launch and Scale Speedometer led by the Duke Global Health Innovation Center. Canada procured 11.41 doses per inhabitant, which is twice of what the U.S. obtained.

Challenges in Vaccine Distribution

Besides the lack of supply to poor nations, making vaccines accessible to the communities come with its own set of challenges.

Even with the promised supplies, most countries are either ill-equipped or have an underfunded public health infrastructure.

Furthermore, short shelf lives and the high storage costs of vaccines have delayed the rate at which vaccination rates are monitored.

Recently, WHO noted that the distribution of vaccine donations through COVAX has been ad hoc. The African Vaccine Acquisition Trust created by the agency received more than 90 million doses through the program but due to “little notice and short shelf lives,” planning of vaccine campaigns had become “extremely challenging.”