Yet a gaping gap remains in vaccination rates between the richest and poorest countries.
On Friday, Gavi, which co-leads the global distribution program Covax, is hosting a summit calling for more funding to address the problem of inequity in access to vaccines.
More than 13 billion doses have been produced since the pandemic, of which 11 billion have been administered, according to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA).
Scientific research group Airfinity expects another nine billion doses to be produced this year. Pfizer alone plans to manufacture four billion doses.
Still, demand could drop to six billion doses this year, IFPMA chief executive Thomas Cueni said.
“Since mid-2021, global vaccine production has exceeded global vaccine demand and this gap has continued to grow,” Cueni said. AFP.
By next year, production could exceed demand by 1.3 to 3.1 billion doses, he added.
Many richer countries are now approaching oversupply. The European Union and G7 countries had a surplus of 497 million doses at the end of last month.
It is feared that doses will be wasted. Covid vaccines have a relatively short shelf life – AstraZeneca’s vaccines have a six month expiry date, the Novavax vaccine has a nine month shelf life in the EU.
Airfinity says 241 million doses have passed their expiration date so far during the pandemic.
Nevertheless, billions of people are still unvaccinated around the world, most of them in developing countries.
Covax, an international public-private partnership co-led by WHO and Gavi, has delivered 1.4 billion doses to 145 countries, well below the two billion doses expected by the end of 2021.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that inequality in access to vaccines could lead to the emergence of new, possibly more contagious, variants.
The WHO wants 70% of the population of each country to be vaccinated by July.
But the records are uneven.
Nearly 80% of the French population, for example, received two doses. But only 15% of the African continent’s population is fully immunized, according to data from the University of Oxford.
On average, 42% of the population in 92 low- and middle-income countries participating in Covax received two doses.
“Vaccine inequality is the greatest moral failure of our time and people and countries are paying the price,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this year.
Covax says it now has enough doses to vaccinate around 45% of the population in the 92 countries receiving donations. But 25 of these countries lack the infrastructure for an effective vaccination campaign.
Worse still, many developing countries are receiving doses too close to their expiry date.
UNICEF Supply Division Director Etleva Kadilli said that as of December nearly 100 million doses had been refused, “the majority because of the shelf life of the product”.
Gavi has decided that doses should be valid for at least 10 weeks upon arrival in countries.
Countries like South Africa and India have long called on the World Trade Organization to suspend intellectual property rights over Covid vaccines and treatments, so they can massively ramp up production.
After fierce opposition from pharmaceutical giants, a first compromise was found between the United States, the European Union, India and South Africa last month.
But several key countries like Switzerland have yet to sign. Doctors Without Borders also says there are “key limitations” in the agreement, such as vaccine-only coverage and geographic limits.
The pharmaceutical companies claim that the patents are not the real problem.
Cueni of IFPMA, a major pharmaceutical lobby group, said the problem now was logistics.
“What we need is money to have storage, transport, more trained health workers, campaigns to counter misinformation: these are the real challenges and not the waiver of the patent”, a- he declared.
Current vaccines target the virus that swept the world in 2020. Although they greatly reduce the risk of serious illness from Covid, they offer only partial protection – especially against newer variants such as the now Omicron dominant.
Several vaccine makers have started testing jabs that target Omicron. They have been delayed but could be available in a few months, if approved by health authorities.
And despite the billions who have yet to receive a first dose, the United States, Britain, France and Israel have begun rolling out a fourth, starting with the most vulnerable.
On Wednesday, the EU medicines watchdog approved a second booster for people aged 80 and over.
“No country can emerge from the pandemic,” Tedros warned.