Many poor countries relying on receiving Covid-19 vaccines through the Covax global sharing scheme do not have enough doses to continue their programmes, the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying.
Uganda, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and Trinidad and Tobago are just some of the countries that have reported running out of vaccines in recent days.
Covax was created last year to ensure Covid-19 vaccines are made available around the world, with richer countries subsidising costs for poorer nations.
WHO senior adviser Dr Bruce Aylward said Covax has delivered 90 million doses to 131 countries, but this is nowhere near enough to protect populations from a virus still on the rise worldwide.
Some African countries are entering a third wave of infections, reports the BBC.
On Monday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called for an end to vaccine hoarding by wealthier countries as his government struggles to curb a steep rise in cases.
He said the whole African continent has been able to administer only 40 million doses so far – less than 2% of the population.
His government is working with Covax to create a regional hub to produce more vaccines in South Africa.
Led by WHO and other international organisations, Covax initially set a target of providing two billion doses to poorer countries worldwide by the end of 2021.
However, distribution has been hampered by manufacturing delays and supply disruptions, leading to shortages in countries wholly reliant on Covax.
At a WHO briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, Aylward acknowledged the extent of those shortages.
“Of the 80 low-income countries involved in Covax, at least half of them do not have sufficient vaccines to be able to sustain their programmes right now”, he said. “But in reality, it’s probably much higher.”
He added some countries are trying to make alternative arrangements to end shortages by paying above market value for vaccines.
On Monday, the administration of US President Joe Biden announced it plans to donate 55 million vaccine doses to countries in need. 41 million will be distributed through Covax, with the remaining 14 million shared with countries deemed to be priorities.
These vaccines are not included in the 500 million doses Biden previously pledged the US would donate via Covax. Biden made that pledge earlier this month at the G7 summit of major economic powers, who together committed to donating one billion vaccines to poorer countries this year.
Campaigners have criticised the pledge as being far too slow and showing Western leaders are not serious about tackling the pandemic worldwide. Many believe it could be months – if not years – before enough people are vaccinated globally to realistically declare an end to the pandemic.
When asked about the global need for vaccines on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “What we have found to be the biggest challenge is not the supply, we have plenty of doses to share with the world, but this is a Herculean logistical challenge.”