Rich countries have preordered more than three billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines, threatening to leave poor nations struggling to inoculate more than a fraction of their billions of people and raising the prospect that the disease could spread for years to come.
Now, with three Western vaccines showing promising effectiveness and a coalition of international health agencies gaining traction, there is cautious optimism in the world’s poorest countries as they scramble to secure some doses.
Europe and America have reserved enough Covid-19 vaccine doses to inoculate their entire populations, claiming the shots before they are even manufactured and squeezing supply for other countries. Meanwhile, China has mainly allocated its vaccines for its own 1.4 billion citizens, outside of a few thousand people in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
That has left many governments in Africa, Latin America and South Asia dependent on a small cluster of international and nongovernmental health agencies based in Switzerland, particularly the World Health Organization, and GAVI, a Geneva-based organization that stockpiles vaccines. Collectively, those agencies hope to vaccinate at best 20% of the population of the world’s 92 poorest countries by the end of next year, primarily health-care workers, the elderly and those with other diseases that make Covid-19 more deadly.