COVAXIN scores approval . . .
India’s first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine has just received a major boost. Yesterday, the WHO granted emergency use authorization to Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN, the eighth vaccine to receive such approval. In January, India authorized the domestic use of COVAXIN and has administered 121 million doses so far. However, the lack of WHO recognition hampered recipients’ ability to travel internationally. It also prevented the vaccine’s distribution to lower-income countries through the COVAX program. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who pushed the WHO to approve COVAXIN at the recent G20 summit, has stated that India can produce over five billion doses by the end of 2022. This could provide a much-needed boost at home, where only a quarter of the Indian population is fully vaccinated, and to many low-income countries still struggling to achieve adequate vaccination coverage.
Asia making up lost ground in vaccine race . . .
Earlier this year, supply issues hampered the vaccine rollout across much of the Asia Pacific. Despite this, many Asian countries now boast vaccination rates that are among the highest in the world. Singapore has fully vaccinated more than 80 per cent of its population and has recently shifted from ‘zero-COVID’ to an endemic strategy where a certain level of prevalence is accepted. South Korea has fully vaccinated 76 per cent of its population. In Japan, spurred by a massive vaccination drive before the Tokyo Olympics this summer, 73 per cent of the population has received both doses.
Hesitancy, misinformation still inhibiting vaccination drives . . .
However, many countries still struggle to achieve adequate vaccination rates even as supply becomes less of an issue. For example, in Papua New Guinea, less than two per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, contributing to the recent massive spike in cases. Large quantities of vaccines donated by Australia and COVAX have gone unused, with the biggest hurdle proving to be vaccine hesitancy fuelled by misinformation and mistrust of the government. Likewise, the vaccine rollout in the Philippines continues to be hampered by logistical issues and vaccine hesitancy, with millions of doses sitting unused, with only a quarter of the population vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy also plays a role in Hong Kong, with the most vulnerable elderly population among the least likely to be vaccinated. But this issue is not unique to Asia; many Western countries, including Canada, are also dealing with vaccine hesitancy as they push to achieve vaccination rates high enough to combat the more-transmissible Delta strain.