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Vaccine countdown

By Bill Emmott, co-director, GCPPP, September 10th 2021

Worldwide, vaccination programmes have accelerated, with the global total of doses administered passing 5.6 billion. But the pace is highly unequal: at current rates 80% of the population will be reached in 161 days in Asia and 221 in each of North America and Europe, but it will take 1,275 days in Africa, nearly three and half years. 

Our clock indicates how long the world as a whole, but more crucially each of the six regions, will take to reach full immunisation of 80% of its population, at the current seven-day rolling average rate of daily dosing. As such, it is not a prediction but a projection of what current policies stand to achieve if they are maintained, and thus hopefully can be a spur on policy-makers to improve upon those policies especially for Africa.

Initially, we used a benchmark of 80% of adults rather than the whole population, and we followed scientists in terming this goal as “herd immunity”. Now, as new variants continue to emerge, bringing heightened concerns that future mutations may affect children more severely than COVID-19 did in its first two years, we have decided to use the tougher benchmark of 80% of the whole population. At this stage, the right assumption for policy planners is that this is a “forever pandemic”, one that will last an unknown number of years and will keep on providing new challenges. That is especially so given that full, truly global immunisation remains more than three years away.

The basic arithmetic is simple. World population is an estimated 7.9 billion, so 80% of that is 6.32 billion. Assuming two-dose regimens, the total requirement of vaccine doses is 12.64 billion.

As of September 8th, according to Our World In Data a total of 5.6 billion vaccine doses had been administered, worldwide. Subtracting that from 12.64  billion gives us the target required of a further 7.04 billion. Our World In Data reports that the latest seven-day rolling average of daily vaccinations worldwide is 30.8 million. If that daily rate could be maintained, the world would achieve protection of 80% of the population in 228 days.

This is far sooner than most people realise. But some significant policy interventions will be required if it is to be achieved or, even better, improved upon. Moreover, it comes with one big caveat: that the pace of vaccination is highly unequal. At current rates it will take 1,275 days to reach 80% of the population in Africa, nearly three and a half years, while in Asia that target will be reached in just 161 days.

Our new map with regional countdowns shows this stark disparity.

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Vaccine supply was in the past one important constraint, but the supply of all approved vaccines — Western, Chinese, Russian and Indian — is increasing every month. Our monthly report on global vaccine production  showed a rise from 822 million doses in May to 1.27 billion doses in August. Total output by the end of 2021 is likely to be between 10.8 billion and 11.5 billion doses. That will be barely a month’s output short of the total needed to immunise 80% of the world’s population.

Now the real constraints are money and political will.

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