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Data: Low Vaccination Coverage in African & Asian countries is a cause for concern

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The trends in Americas, Western Europe indicate that vaccination has contributed to reduce fatalities in recent COVID-19 waves compared to the days of pre-vaccination. Similar pattern is observed in some of the Latin American countries. However, the low vaccination rates in African & Asian countries remains a cause for concern.

In the earlier story, we reviewed the trends in vaccination in some of the developed countries around the world with high vaccination coverage. The trends indicate that vaccination has contributed to reduce fatalities in recent COVID-19 waves compared to the days of pre-vaccination. 

As per available information, as of 04 November 2021, USA & Canada in North America lead with a high proportion of the population fully vaccinated, followed by the Latin American countries. Europe slightly lags Latin America, with lower rates in Eastern European countries bringing down the average. Africa faces a severe COVID-19 vaccine crisis with only 8.7% of the population vaccinated at least with one dose. 

In this story, we look at the trends in a few of the countries from Latin America, Africa & Asia. Even for this story, we have relied on the data provided on Ourworldindata.org and the information is as of 31 October 2021. The daily numbers for cases & deaths considered for the analysis are 10-day averages. 

Brazil 

Brazil has reported the third highest number of COVID-19 cases after USA & India with around 21.8 million cases by the end of October’2021. Vaccination in the country began during the latter part of January 2021 but had very low traction during the initial months. This period also coincided with the beginning of the third wave in the country which not only saw an increase in the number of new daily cases but also an increase in the number of deaths. It was immediately followed by a fourth wave, which also resulted in a high number of daily cases and deaths at par with the third wave. 

The vaccination coverage only started to improve amidst the fourth wave and gained momentum. As of October 2021, 74.4% of the population received at least one dose of vaccination and 55.2% of the population is fully vaccinated. The increase in the vaccination numbers coincides with a period of decline in the number of cases as well as deaths, with no new wave for four months now.  

Colombia 

Among the Latin American countries, Colombia reported the third highest number of COVID-19 cases, following Brazil & Argentina. As noted earlier, Brazil has already vaccinated close to 75% of its population with at least one dose. The same is the case with Argentina which has also vaccinated 75% of its population with at least a single dose. In comparison, only around 58% of the population of Colombia received at least one dose and around 41% have been fully vaccinated. 

While these numbers are comparably lower than Brazil or Argentina, the trend is like that of these countries i.e., the increase in vaccine coverage coincided with a decline in the number of new cases as well as a fall in the number of deaths.  

The latest wave was at its peak at the end of June 2021. The Vaccination started gaining pace at the beginning of June 2021 and by the end of the month, around 23% received at least a single dose. 

The country is yet to encounter a new wave of COVID-19 infection since July 2021. However, with only around half the population vaccinated, there is still a threat of increased cases in future waves. However, based on the data of other countries, it can be said that future waves could be less fatal because of increased vaccine coverage. 

Indonesia 

Indonesia had a noticeable spread of COVID-19 infection only during the last quarter of 2020, by which time many of the other countries were experiencing 2nd & 3rd waves. The numbers during the initial wave in Indonesia were also lower.  The country experienced a comparatively severe second wave during Jan-Feb’2021. Vaccination began in Indonesia by the end of January 2021 though only about 10% of the population was vaccinated by the end of June. 

Indonesia witnessed a more severe third wave, with a peak of 50 thousand plus daily cases by mid-of July’2021. The deaths also peaked at around 2 thousand per day. The vaccination gathered pace during this period. Eventually, the third wave subsided starting August, with around 500 daily cases being reported as of date. The overall vaccine coverage is still lower with only 43% of the population receiving at least one dose and 27% fully vaccinated. However, this is a marked improvement compared to the initial few months of vaccination in the country. 

A review of the timeline indicates that Indonesia did have a window of low COVID-19 spread and a proactive approach towards vaccination during that period could have helped in averting a fatal third wave. 

It is to be seen if there would be a new wave in Indonesia given that the vaccination coverage is still comparatively low. Based on the experiences from other countries, Indonesia can do well by ramping up the vaccination rate during the current window. 

South Africa 

COVID-19 infection spread late in most of the African countries. South Africa has the greatest number of COVID-19 cases of all African countries. The country experienced its first COVID-19 wave during July/August 2020.  At the beginning of 2021, South Africa was in the middle of a second wave which was severe than the first one. At the peak of this wave, around 20 thousand daily cases were being reported with around 600-700 daily deaths. This wave started to subside by the end of January 2021. It was around mid-February 2021 that South Africa started administering vaccines for its citizens. However, the rate of vaccination was very low during the first few months. By end of June 2021, the number of daily cases began to increase when only about 5% of the population was vaccinated with at least one dose. 

The third wave peaked during early July with 20-22 thousand daily cases. The vaccination coverage also started to improve during this month. The number of deaths, however, was comparatively lower than the second wave. 

Although the rate of vaccination is still low with only about a quarter of the population vaccinated with at least one dose, the increase has coincided with falling numbers of the third wave. Unlike in European countries, the gap between the waves is longer in the case of South Africa akin to India and a few other Asian countries. 

The intensity of any further waves remains to be seen. However, like in the case of Indonesia, South Africa did miss out on a window prior to the third wave with very low vaccination rates. 

There is an urgent need to ramp up the vaccination coverage to mitigate the intensity of future COVID-19 spread. 

Low Vaccination rates impeding efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 

The countries analysed in this story provide details of the trends witnessed across the different regions of the world. Though each country is in a different situation, they indicate the broad trends in various regions of the world. 

A common aspect across the countries is the positive correlation of vaccination and mitigation of COVID-19 in terms of lower fatalities. As observed in the earlier story, developed countries were able to vaccinate a major portion of their population and reduce the fatalities from the infection. Countries like Brazil & Argentina also did well in vaccine coverage. Countries like Colombia have been late but improved their vaccination coverage over time. All these countries witnessed a reduction in fatalities with improved vaccine coverage.  

The greater concern is around the developing & poorer countries in Asia & Africa. Though Indonesia & South Africa had windows of opportunity to vaccine their population, they were slow and paid the price in severe waves. Despite lower vaccination coverage, South Africa is relatively better off than other African countries.  The overall vaccination rate of only around 8% poses a serious risk of future infections in Africa, which is already suffering from economic and logistical challenges. 

While India is better off than most countries especially considering its huge population, it needs to ramp up the second dose to fully vaccinate a substantial portion of the adult population. 

Featured Image: Vaccination Coverage

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