COVID-19 vaccine access

This report synthesises the thoughts that emerged from a workshop hosted by the Global Health Strategy Group for Digital Health and AI for health, an initiative of Oxford in Berlin Global Health. The report captures challenges affecting the supply, distribution, and access to authentic COVID-19 vaccines for people in low- and middle-income countries with a special focus on Africa. Moreover, it provides real-life case studies of organisations and initiatives that exemplify how digital, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technologies can be implemented to strengthen vaccine access, traceability, and product safety.

COVID-19 has shaped the world in unprecedented ways. Hallmarks of “ordinary” life like commerce, employment, education, and travel have been disrupted for nearly two years now. As the world begins to re-open, vaccines for COVID-19, which were developed with unparalleled speed and global cooperation, remain our best chance of returning to pre-pandemic life. Yet, access to these vaccines remains a preeminent challenge for the majority of the world’s population. Vaccine nationalism, chiefly, has led to significant immunisation disparities between high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries. As of early September 2021, for example, only 2% of the population of people in low-income countries had received one vaccine dose compared with 65% of people in high-income countries.

 Countries like the US, UK, and Canada have secured enough vaccines to cover multiples of their populations and have moved on to giving boosters while billions of other people barely have access to these life-saving vaccines.

Such disparities have accelerated the emergence and proliferation of both substandard and falsified (SF) and diverted COVID-19 vaccines. Constrained supply of vaccines, poor traceability of medical products, weak infrastructure, and inadequate tracking across borders have all worsened the situation. As of July 2021, for example, approximately 150 unique reports of SF vaccines had been published in the lay literature, highlighting, to some extent, the breath and complexity of the challenge.