Vaccine inequity continues to challenge the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While 62% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, that includes only 12% of people in low-income countries, according to Our World in Data’s CoVID-19 Vaccine Tracker.
The Task Force’s COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Program (CoVIP) is working to change that, partnering with 36 low- and middle- income countries to roll out vaccines. Countries include Armenia, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Moldova, Mongolia, Vietnam, Uzbekistan and Zambia, among others.
“The vaccination rates in low and middle-income countries are rising now, including the countries that we’re working with, but they still fall well below the vaccine rates in high-income countries that have better access to vaccines and better programs to deliver them,” said Dr. Joseph Bresee, Director of The Task Force’s Respiratory Virus Prevention programs which includes CoVIP. “So there’s a continuing problem with equity in the distribution and the use of COVID vaccines and the benefits they provide.”
As of January 31, CoVIP and partner countries were able to increase the percentage of target groups vaccinated from a mean of 3.3% at the start of their work together last year to 23.8%, building on a Task Force model that helps countries develop influenza immunization programs.
Launched in February 2021 with funding from the CDC, CoVIP helps countries that have access to COVID-19 vaccines build the systems necessary to use the vaccines quickly and efficiently. Bresee credits the program’s success to its collaborative model, partners’ extensive expertise, and the commitment of participating governments. Initial funding enabled The Task Force to work with 35 countries and additional funding in September 2021 expanded the program, which plans to eventually work with as many as 75 countries.
Bresee believes continued collaboration will increase vaccination rates in the countries where CoVIP is working, which will benefit people there and improve global health security overall.
“It’s clear that we are not the only group responsible for that,” he said “In each country, and certainly the globe, the COVID vaccination enterprise involves hundreds of implementing partners, of which we are one. I think we play a very positive role in our partner countries’ ability to use the vaccine and in the next six months we hope to play an even larger role, in terms of in-person time, funding and technical support.”
As a next step, the CoVIP team intends to engage more countries, increase support to each country, and bolster workforce capacity.
“It’s one thing to give extra money to countries, but it’s also very important and even more useful to give them expert hands to support their programs,” said Bresee.
Field epidemiologist Dr. Aminu Muhammad has been working with CoVIP in various countries, with a particular focus in West Africa. His experience provides him a unique perspective on what’s needed next.
“COVID isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “It’s going to be with us for a while and definitely is one of the conditions that we will have to include in our routine immunizations, like the flu. We have to strategize to be ready for that, looking at the future. I believe that CoVIP has a role in the sense that, although we have people with boots on the ground, we also need to help people at a higher level. At a level where we’re able to look at multiple countries at the same time so there is synergy in terms of strategy – a collaborative effort together, so we’re not seeing a fragmented approach to implementation.”
As part of this approach, the team is concentrating staff time and resources to work even more intensively with select countries that need to increase vaccine coverage rates. They are sending more than 40 immunization experts to an initial group of 13 countries to accelerate their vaccination progress, and will likely expand this support to additional countries in the coming weeks. The team also continues to evaluate and refine the program, collecting best practices and lessons learned that will help other countries with their vaccine roll out.
Header photo: A nurse in Kenya administers a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Osido.