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Monday, March 08, 2021

Explained: What’s happening in countries that have a headstart on vaccination

While the wealthy nations had a headstart in booking doses for their citizens because of their economic might, they were also accused of hoarding vaccines which would have been much more useful elsewhere.

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: February 4, 2021 11:04:11 am
A Walmart employee prepares to administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a Walmart in the Austin neighborhood, of Chicago, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

A year after Covid-19 first started being reported in China, the resultant pandemic has affected over 100 million people across the world and claimed over 2.2 million lives. The fightback for what has been an unprecedented crisis affecting humankind started towards late 2020 when China and then other countries announced vaccines and schedules by which it would be rolled out to their populations.

While the wealthy nations had a headstart in booking doses for their citizens because of their economic might, they were also accused of hoarding vaccines which would have been much more useful elsewhere.

Meanwhile, countries like India, China and Russia are also using the opportunity to engage in diplomacy by sharing stocks with less-equipped nations and those who have lower stocks and sourcing abilities. Days after India started its domestic vaccination drive, it began shipping out the first batch of the Covishield vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and the locally-developed Covaxin, a joint initiative by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research, to neighbours Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal, as well as strategic partners in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius and Seychelles. India’s vaccine diplomacy has also been extended to Afghanistan, which will get its first consignment after completing regulatory clearance. The Indian government had said that Pakistan had not asked New Delhi for vaccines. Several other nations around the world, including those in the Middle East, have also received consignments of vaccines from India.

With vaccine roll-outs underway across the world, with the UK being the first to do so, here is a look at the status of the vaccine rollout across the world.


Although Israel struggled with surging infection numbers through 2020, as the year drew to a close, the country raced ahead with its ambitious inoculation drive, leaving behind even nations like the United Kingdom that had started the process much earlier. But soon after it was launched, Israel’s vaccination programme was criticised by rights groups who said the inoculation drive was excluding Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza, in a violation of human rights.

An Israeli woman receives a Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Despite the country vaccinating its population faster than any other nation, with 53.3 doses administered for every 100 people according to a New York Times report, Israel has been struggling with a third wave of infections, forcing the government to reimpose a third national lockdown in January. But on the opposite side, among those who have been innoculated, the report said Israel had recorded a “significant drop” in infection numbers, adding that experts have said these findings are only preliminary.

United States

The US has struggled with one of the highest rates of coronavirus infections and related deaths and politics concerning the use of face masks and social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus. The country has also faced criticism for using its wealth and influence, like some other western nations, of stockpiling vaccines, in quantities that would be sufficient to inoculate its population several times over, thereby depriving other nations in need of the critical commodity.

In this Jan. 23, 2021, file photo, registered Nurse Shyun Lin, left, administers Alda Maxis, 70, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in the William Reid Apartments in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool, File)

The US started administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 14, and authorities have also approved a second vaccine made by Moderna. According to a BBC report, the US vaccination programme aims to reach 100 million people by April. But recent figures by the New York Times show that only 9.4 people per 100 are being vaccinated on an average.

On January 21, the Biden administration released a 200-page strategy outlining plans to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the country that, very simply, focuses on “listening to science”. Among other provisions, this strategy underlines the plan to increase the number of testing sites, and by increasing the production of rapid tests.

While these measures may help in bringing down infection numbers and making health officials better equipped to deal with outbreaks, there has been some criticism from medical experts who say the Biden administration’s plans require more detail regarding the fundings, staffing and procedures for some coronavirus initiatives, as well as details on how surveillance for new variants of coronavirus would work.

United Kingdom

Having witnessed high infection numbers through the year, the UK started its coronavirus vaccination programme on December 8, before most other countries around the world. Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old British national was the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

However, despite publicity surrounding the early start of the vaccination drive, the UK was forced to implement a harsher lockdown after a new and more contagious strain of the coronavirus was discovered in the country, prompting concerns of rapid spread of the new variant and whether vaccines would be equipped to tackle the new strain.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is shown how to prepare the vaccine by advance nurse practitioner Sarah Sowden as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination centre at the Indian Muslim Welfare Society (IMWS) Al-Hikmah-Centre in Batley, West Yorkshire, England, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super, pool)

According to a Reuters report on January 28, even as the United Kingdom recorded a recent dip in Covid-19-related deaths, the country has seen a rise in infection cases. The country appears to be more successful in administering vaccines to larger numbers of its population than other western countries in the European Union, the New York Times reports, with 14.2 doses administered per 100 people.


China has come a long way this past year, from being the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, to quickly stemming its spread and then being among the first countries to start its large-scale vaccination drive. So much so that not only did it curb the spread of infections with higher success than western nations, it also produced two domestic vaccines, Sinovac and Sinopharm, the first deployment of which started in November last year after the grant of emergency licenses, even while their efficacy was being tested.

According to a report by the BBC, Sinopharm had said that “interim data showed its leading vaccine had a 79% efficacy rate in phase three trials” but did not provide more details. At a rate of 1.6 doses per 100 people, according to a report by New York Times.


During the start of the coronavirus outbreak, France was among the hardest hit European nations and has since struggled with large infection numbers. On December 26, France administered the first vaccines in the country to a woman and a doctor, both aged 78, in Rene-Muret Hospital near Paris.

In this Jan. 18, 2021, file photo, a man receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination against COVID-19 at a vaccination center in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. Many people lining up for vaccines in the Paris suburb are particularly grateful for the injections. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

Like other countries in the European Union, France too is reportedly facing vaccine shortages that are impacting its immunisation campaign. According to a Reuters report, all first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine will be reportedly suspended in Paris and in the surrounding area starting on February 2. The public health agency for the Paris region has told hospitals to halt first doses starting in February due to “extremely tight vaccine supplies,” Reuters reported.

The country has seen a rise in coronavirus cases, a recent Reuters report said. President Emmanuel Macron is hoping that the 6 p.m. curfew that was initiated 11 days ago will be adequate to rein in the surge in new cases that have been attributed to the more contagious variants of the virus, but Reuters added that there are concerns that a third lockdown may be implemented in the country. According to a New York Times analysis, 2.3 doses are being administered per 100 people.


Another European nation that struggled with high numbers of coronavirus infections when the outbreak first started in spring 2020, began its vaccination drive in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt on December 26. On January 28, the country’s main public health agency announced that it was not going to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over the age of 65, citing “insufficient data”.

By the last week of January, however, the country began anticipating vaccine shortages. A DW report quoting Health Minister Jens Spahn saying that Germany is bracing for vaccine shortages to last into April. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most populous state, officials postponed opening vaccination centers until February 8, while in the eastern state of Brandenburg, health authorities have pushed back first-dose appointments that had been originally slated for the end of January, DW reported. Only 0.6 % of its population has been fully vaccinated.


Having spent a significant part of 2020 dealing with one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus in the world, Italy joined other nations in the European Union on December 27 to launch its Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Following the festival week in December 2020, Italy recorded a spike in infections during a new round of testing, according to a Bloomberg report. The Italian government has considered tightening coronavirus restrictions in Milan and its surrounding area, and other regions with spikes in infection numbers. Hospitalisations related to the virus were also recorded in January after weeks of decline, the report said. In addition to these challenges, Italy is also facing a shortage of adequate needles, like Greece, that is preventing the country from properly executing its vaccination drive. 3.2 per hundred have been vaccinated, according to a New York Times report.


Canada was among the first western nations to start its vaccination programme on December 14. Similar to the US, Canada too has chosen the Moderna vaccine for its mass immunisation programme and like its neighbour, it too has faced criticism for stock-piling necessary vaccines. Although the Moderna vaccine has been chosen for its mass immunisation programme, the first COVID-19 patient in Canada to be inoculated was an 89-year-old woman from Quebec who had received the Pfizer vaccine.

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Infection numbers appear to be declining in Canada, the Vancouver Sun reported. However, the report quoted the country’s chief public health officer saying it’s still too soon to know whether the recent downward trend in new COVID-19 cases will continue. According to the report, while infection numbers appear to be declining in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, spikes have been recorded elsewhere. According to a report by the New York Times, 2.5 people per hundred have been vaccinated.


India started one of the world’s largest vaccination programmes on January 16, by using the Covishield vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and the locally-developed Covaxin, a joint initiative by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research. The Indian government prioritised administering the shot to nurses, doctors and other frontline workers, in addition to sharing stockpiles with neighbouring nations and other countries around the world in need of vaccines. Until January end, India had vaccinated over 3.7 million people, mostly frontline and healthcare workers.

People line up to be administered COVID-19 vaccine at the Sion Municipal Hospital in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)


Mexico recorded high coronavirus infection numbers last year, with numbers peaking between July to August and November to December last year. In 2020, it also recorded one of the world’s highest death tolls related to coronavirus. On January 28, Mexico surpassed India after having recorded the world’s third highest number of coronavirus deaths.

The country launched its mass vaccination programme on December 24, with a nurse being the first to receive a vaccine dose, one day after the first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine with 3,000 doses arrived from Belgium via a courier flight. On January 27, Mexico announced that it was also close to granting approval for Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, according to an Associated Press report. The vaccination rate is still low at just 0.5, according to a New York Times article.


Another EU nation hard hit by the pandemic, Spain started its vaccination drive on December 27. But by the last week of January 2021, Reuters reported that Spain was facing vaccine shortages, resulting in the Madrid and Cantabria regions halting their vaccination programs.

The report said health officials in the Catalonia region have warned that the vaccine supplies for Barcelona and the surrounding region would run out on January 29. Madrid’s regional vice president Igancio Aguado said the supply issues would likely make it impossible to meet the Spanish government’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the population by summer, Reuters reported. One of the biggest obstacles to the country seeing more success in its vaccination drive is the lack of trained nurses, the New York Times reports. About 3.2 per 100 people have been vaccinated, a Times report says.


Also a recipient of India’s vaccine diplomacy, Brazil started its vaccination drive on January 23 this year after the first consignment was dispatched from India. Soon after the arrival of the consignment, the country began distributing two million ready-to-use vaccines produced by AstraZeneca PLC. Brazil’s original plans were scuppered after its direct deal with AstraZeneca was impacted due to manufacturing delays.

An elderly woman gets a shot of China’s Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine as part of a priority COVID-19 vaccination program for the elderly at a drive-thru vaccination center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

The start of the vaccination drive has coincided with a recent surge in coronavirus cases, according to a report by Al Jazeera. In addition, a new fast-spreading COVID-19 strain was recently detected in cities such as Manaus and Sao Paulo and Brazilian authorities are struggling to contain the virus. According to the news report, hospitals are full and the city of Manaus is continuing to face oxygen shortages. 1 in every 100 people have received a dose, according to data by the New York Times.


On August 13 last year, President Vladimir Putin had announced that Russia had become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a coronavirus vaccine. One month later, Russia had said that it had started inoculating its citizens with the locally-developed Sputnik V vaccine, the efficacy of which was questioned by some medical experts and global health bodies, who cited that the vaccine had not completed the necessary phase-three trial.

Russia is among the nations that have been distributing its supplies of vaccines in a humanitarian gesture. The New York Times reports that 0.7 people per 100 have received the first dose of the vaccine.

Saudi Arabia

The worst-affected country on the Arabian Peninsula with more than 360,000 recorded cases, and 6,148 recorded deaths, Saudi Arabia began its inoculation campaign with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 17, according to an Al Jazeera report. On January 28, the Saudi Ministry of Health reported that the country had witnessed an increase in the daily number of coronavirus infections, according to a news report by the Arab News agency.

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