Covid vaccinations one year on: how the world compares today

Almost half of the planet's population is fully vaccinated but the rollout remains starkly uneven

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On December 8, 2020, a UK grandmother became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in a milestone moment in the fight against Covid-19.

A day after Margaret Keenan, then 90, took the jab, the UAE announced it had registered the Sinopharm vaccine for public use.

They were important steps on the world's long and winding road to recovery from the pandemic.

At the moment unfortunately it’s inevitable that there are inequities in distribution, but it needn’t stay that way
Prof John Oxford, Queen Mary University of London

While there have been bumps along the way, including the emergence of variants of the virus, much progress has been made in the 12 months since.

Vaccination programmes have gathered pace and continue to protect people from Covid-19 across the globe.

Almost 34 million doses are being administered each day and, worldwide, the total number of doses given has reached 8.24 billion.

“I’m absolutely astounded with how much vaccine has been produced under these circumstances right in the middle of a pandemic,” said Prof John Oxford, emeritus professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London and co-author of the textbook Human Virology.

“We know about shortages of this and that chemical, but China, Russia, the UK, Europe and America have forged ahead … The vaccines made are a fantastic achievement.”

The total number of doses administered exceeds the world population, but the unevenness of the rollout means that doses have been restricted to 4.34 billion people – 57 per cent of the global population.

So far 46 per cent of the world’s population has been fully vaccinated and 3.6 per cent have also received a booster dose.

Asia has administered 67.84 per cent of all doses, followed by Europe at 11.91 per cent, North America at 9.25 per cent, South America at 7.31 per cent, Africa at 3.07 per cent and Oceania at 0.61 per cent.

In terms of coverage, Africa has the lowest figure, with only 18 doses administered per 100 inhabitants.

While health officials in some parts of the world are considering giving out fourth doses, billions have yet to receive their first.

“At the moment unfortunately it’s inevitable [that there are inequities in distribution], but it needn’t stay that way,” said Prof Oxford.

The UAE heads the global charts with more than 99 per cent of people having received at least one dose and more than 90 per cent fully vaccinated.

Others near the top of the list include Singapore and Portugal, each having fully vaccinated almost 88 per cent of the population, followed by Chile and Malta, each with around 86 per cent fully vaccinated.

In some developed nations, especially in Europe and North America, vaccine hesitancy rather than inadequate supplies are placing an upper limit on levels of coverage.

China leads the world in number of shots given out, at 2.56 billion, which is almost double second-placed India’s total of 1.28 billion, while the US is third at 472 million, Brazil fourth at 316 million and Indonesia fifth at 242 million.

Booster programmes have begun in at least 80 nations and about 15 per cent of doses administered each day are now these third jabs.

Just two countries, Eritrea and North Korea, have reportedly not yet begun vaccination programmes.

Many poorer nations, unable to purchase their own supplies, are reliant on the Covax programme from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gavi – a public-private vaccine alliance – and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, a partnership set up to develop vaccines.

By the end of this year, Covax was due to have distributed two billion doses, but so far fewer than one third this number has been administered across 144 countries.

The biggest donor to Covax is the US, which announced it would give more than 850 million doses, of which 140 million have been delivered, while a further 53 million have been donated but not yet delivered.

Second is the EU, which has said it will give the initiative 451.15 million doses, of which 57.8 million have been delivered and a further 240.50 million have been donated but not yet delivered.

Germany has been the third most generous donor in terms of announcements, having said it will give Covax 175 million doses. So far, 14.9 million of these have been delivered and a further 84.2 million donated but not delivered.

While significant inequities in vaccine distribution remain, these have tended to work in alignment with where risks are greatest.

“To protect the world and stop the virus evolving so fast, we want to protect everybody,” said Prof David Taylor, emeritus professor of pharmaceutical and public health at University College London.

“It’s also true those most at risk are the elderly and the most developed countries have more older people.”

Although there are predictions that it may be well into 2023 before everyone has been offered a coronavirus vaccination, experts do think that inequities will reduce next year.

“In many South American countries there’s every sign the system is coming together and more people are getting access to adequate vaccination,” said Prof Taylor.

The emergence of new variants, such as Omicron, which was recently identified in South Africa and has already spread widely, may influence how rollouts progress.

If new variants prove significantly more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, developed nations may secure a greater share of new doses than would otherwise be the case as they look to administer tweaked vaccines.

Updated: December 09, 2021, 10:40 AM