Global vaccine distribution faces challenges

Worldwide, less than one percent of people have received the full dosage of any version of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data provided by Our World in Data.  This number is sure to increase in the coming weeks and over the next year, as a little over three percent of the world’s population will be at least partially vaccinated.

News of the vaccine may mean an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 2,554,694 people around the world, according to the World Health Organization. 

Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the nations comprising the United Kingdom and the United States are among the leaders in vaccinations, with Israel leading the world in per capita vaccinations at 36.7% of their population receiving the full dosage.

Globally, the current daily rate of vaccinations is at 6.73 million doses per day, with the potential of that increasing because of better distribution and new vaccines being approved, according to’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker webpage. At this rate the Bloomberg tracker estimated that it will take 4.5 years to vaccinate 75% of the global population with two dose vaccines.

Epidemiologist and Professor of Global Health and Biology Becky Dawson thinks that we are not dealing with an ideal vaccine distribution situation, but is encouraged by the existence of vaccines and sees vaccines as providing an extra layer of protection against the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“Ideal (vaccine distribution) would be that we would get to the most at-risk populations first across the board” Dawson said. “It would be lovely if that happened universally first.”

According to Dawson, we are not dealing with an ideal vaccine for global distribution due to how cold it needs to be kept throughout the chain of distribution, but as of Feb. 27, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was approved for emergency use in the United States. This vaccine differs from current vaccines in that it can be stored at a higher temperature than current options and is administered in only one shot, according to Dawson and a press release from Johnson and Johnson.

“We are only going to be as healthy as the sickest person and so as we think about how we protect,” Dawson said.  “Whether it’s our community here in Meadville, whether we think about the state or country or the continent we live on,  we have to vaccinate people all over the world.”

Dawson also thinks that the conditions created by the pandemic will not be eliminated if and when every American is vaccinated.

“It just doesn’t work that way because the virus does not know international boundaries,” Dawson said, referencing  the ease of travel from different countries and parts of the world.

The COVAX program is an effort to combat unequal vaccine distribution and distribute vaccines. This program is led by Gavi, a vaccine distributor backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the WHO.

On March 1, the COVAX program distributed its first vaccines in The Ivory Coast, according to Time. By the end of 2021, the COVAX program hopes to deliver two billion vaccine doses.

During the Trump administration, the United States declined to participate in the COVAX program, but President Biden has since reversed this decision, committing $2 billion to the effort, according to Time.

Dawson sees the organizations as leaders on vaccine distribution, with Gavi having a reputation for providing low cost vaccines and both the WHO and Gavi having networks of effective vaccine distribution.

“They’re the two organizations that are going to get vaccines to people, and they have been getting vaccines to people for other diseases for decades now,” Dawson said. “Those are the types of groups that we, not just individually, but as a country need to be supportive of, and need to be willing to make financial contributions to.”

With increasing vaccination rates, the hope of eventually returning to normal through achieving herd immunity is becoming more prevalent. Dawson emphasized that American citizens should not be hyper-focused on U.S. vaccination numbers.

“This pandemic is not going to end by getting every American vaccinated,” Dawson said. “It’s going to end when there’s global immunity.”

Dawson was also concerned about just and equitable global distribution.

“The justice piece of this isn’t just (that) every life is valuable — which is true,” Dawson said. “The flip side of it is that if we want global health, like true elimination of this disease so that we aren’t living in pandemic situations, vaccination across the board … has to be the priority.”

In terms of how much the vaccine will constitute an end to the pandemic, Dawson saw a real possibility that current precautions, along with the vaccine will help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not the silver bullet that’s going to solve all of our problems, but we know how to mitigate disease spread, and we know those things work,” Dawson said. “Between that and having adequate testing so we know who is sick and who is not, vaccines are going to add that extra layer of immunity so we can start decreasing community spread.”