Asia-Pacific region very far behind in COVID-19 vaccination rollout
With many Asia-Pacific governments having problems securing COVID-19 vaccines, the region is facing a renewed surge in coronavirus infections. India, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and Taiwan are broken records in the number of daily cases in the past month.
According to CNBC analysis data compiled by statistics site Our World in Data as of June 1, countries in the Asia-Pacific region have collectively administered around 23.8 doses of COVID vaccine per 100 people. That’s far below North America’s roughly 61.4 doses per 100 people is and Europe’s 48.5 doses per 100 people. Africa is the region with the slowest vaccination drive, with only 2.5 doses administered for every 100 people.
Economists at Natixis, a French bank, attributed this to supply shortage. A Natixis report highlighted that demand remains weak from the public. “Skeptism over the newly developed vaccines seems to be a common reason for the hesitance globally. But it is even more so in Asia where a more effective containment has led to a lower sense of urgency.” Natixis economists believe only Singapore and mainland China will be able to vaccinate 70% of the respective countries’ population this year. They said slow vaccination progress will hit some Asian economies more than others. “Asia has gone from a poster child in containment success to a laggard in vaccination rollout; social distancing measures and cross-border restrictions will remain in place longer in the region compared to the West.”
A report by Fitch Solutions pointed out that several frontier and emerging markets in Asia rely on COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing initiative for COVID vaccines. But, supply came to a halt because India restricted exports due to the second wave of coronavirus infections across the country. Fitch Solutions warned that if Indian exports are not resumed soon, many low- and lower-middle income countries reliant on COVAX will experience further delays in their vaccination progress.
Reasons as behind the regions slow vaccine rollout
Experts say there are several reasons why Asia-Pacific is lagging behind the rest of the world is vaccinating its population. ING said there has been a degree of queue jumping by some countries. Those at the very front argue to have taken a risk in paying for vaccines before they were even proven. And this “gamble” seems to have paid off, with countries like the UK, UAE and Israel getting access to the vaccines they paid up for in advance.
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Then there are those countries, like the UK and US, which wholly benefitted due to substantial vaccine production facilities within their countries. There are also vaccine manufacturers in India, but it failed to take full advantage of vaccinating its population first and opted to prioritize vaccine-diplomacy first.
One of the main reasons for slow vaccine rollout is mistrust of vaccine. Faith in government advice on vaccines is very low, with people more prepared to get their advice from friends and the internet. Moreover, the vulnerability of vaccine makers to class action lawsuits in the event of real or alleged serious side-effects means that not only have the medical regulatory bodies been languid to provide their approval for vaccines, but the developers have also been in no rush to deliver physical vaccines to a region with relatively low COVID-prevalence, matched with an equally low appetite for vaccine risk.