JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – As many Asian countries face their worst wave of COVID-19 infections, the slow flow of vaccine doses from around the world is finally accelerating, raising hopes that low inoculation rates may increase and help mitigate the effect of the fast-spreading delta variant.
With many vaccine promises still unfulfilled and infection rates on the rise in several countries, however, experts say more needs to be done to help countries struggling with patient overflow and shortages of oxygen and gas. ‘other essential supplies.
Some 1.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived Thursday afternoon in Indonesia, which has become a dominant hotspot with a record number of infections and deaths.
The US shipment follows 3 million more US doses that arrived on Sunday and 11.7 million doses of AstraZeneca that have arrived in batches since March via the UN-backed COVAX mechanism, the latest earlier this week .
“It’s quite encouraging,” said Sowmya Kadandale, UNICEF Indonesia chief of health, who is in charge of the distribution of vaccines provided by COVAX. “It seems now, and not just in Indonesia, a race between vaccines and variants, and I hope we win this race. “
Many, including the World Health Organization, have criticized vaccine inequalities around the world, pointing out that many wealthy countries have at least partially immunized more than half of their populations, while the vast majority of people in countries with low income are still awaiting a first dose.
The International Red Cross this week warned of “widening the global vaccine divide” and said rich countries must step up the pace of meeting their commitments.
“It’s a shame that this has not happened sooner and cannot happen faster,” said Alexander Matheou, Asia-Pacific director of the Red Cross, of the recent increase in deliveries. “It’s not too late – vaccinating people is always worth doing – but the later the vaccines come in, the more people will die. “
Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea have all imposed new lockdown restrictions over the past week as they struggle to contain rapidly rising infections amid slow vaccination campaigns.
In South Korea – widely hailed for its initial response to the pandemic that included extensive testing and contact tracing – a vaccine shortage has left 70% of the population waiting for their first vaccine. Thailand, which only started mass vaccination in early June, is seeing a skyrocketing case and death toll, and only around 15% of people have received at least one injection. In Vietnam, only about 4% have done so.
“Parts of the world (…) are talking about reclaiming lost freedoms such as returning to work, opening cinemas and restaurants,” Matheou told The Associated Press. “This part of the world is far from that. ”
Indonesia began aggressively vaccinating earlier than many in the region, negotiating bilaterally with China for Sinovac vaccines. Today, about 14% of its population – the fourth largest in the world – has at least one dose of a vaccine, mainly Sinovac. Several countries also have their own production capacities, including South Korea, Japan and Thailand, but still need more doses to meet the needs of the region’s huge population.
“Both Moderna and AstraZeneca have played a crucial role in increasing these numbers and ensuring the availability of supplies,” said UNICEF’s Kadandale, noting that Indonesia was planning to vaccinate 208.2 million. more people by the end of the year and administered 1 million vaccines per day. “Each dose makes a huge difference. “
Many other countries in the region have much lower vaccination rates than Indonesia for a variety of reasons, including production and distribution issues as well as an initial wait-and-see attitude on the part of many at the start when the numbers were low. weak and there was less sense of urgency.
Some were shocked after witnessing the devastation in India in April and May as the country’s healthcare system crumbled under a severe spike in cases that caught the government off guard and resulted in mass deaths.
At the same time, India – a major regional vaccine producer – has stopped exporting doses so that it can focus on its own ailing population.
The United States recently sent tens of millions of doses of the vaccine to several countries in Asia, as part of President Joe Biden’s pledge to deliver 80 million doses, including Vietnam, Laos, Korea South and Bangladesh. The United States plans to donate an additional 500 million vaccines worldwide next year and 200 million by the end of 2021.
“Indonesia is a critical partner for the US engagement in Southeast Asia and vaccines are provided unconditionally,” said Scott Hartmann, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Jakarta. “We are doing this with the goal of saving lives and ending the global pandemic, and equitable global access to safe and effective vaccines is essential. “
Earlier in the week, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country is one of COVAX’s main backers, accused Russia and China of using their vaccine delivery for political gain.
“We see, especially with China, that the supply of vaccines has also been used to formulate very clear political demands from various countries,” he said, without giving specific examples.
There are also growing questions about the effectiveness of China’s Sinovac vaccine against the delta variant of the virus.
Thai officials said booster doses of AstraZeneca would be given to frontline medical staff who had previously received two doses of Sinovac, after a nurse who received two doses of Sinovac died on Saturday after contracting COVID -19.
Sinovac has been cleared by the WHO for emergency use, but Indonesia has also said it is planning reminders for health workers, using some of the newly delivered Moderna doses, after reports that some health workers who died since June had been fully vaccinated along with the Chinese. shoot.
“We have always found people with severe symptoms or dying even when vaccinated,” Pandu Riono, epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, said of the Sinovac shooting. “There is only evidence that certain vaccines are potent enough to cope with the delta variant – AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer seem capable. “
While the majority of recent deliveries have been to the United States, Japan on Thursday sent 1 million doses of AstraZeneca each to Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam under bilateral deals, and Vietnam said it was receiving 1.5 million additional doses of AstraZeneca from Australia.
The Philippines expects a total of 16 million doses in July, including 3.2 million from the United States later this week, 1.1 million from Japan, 132,000 from Sputnik V of Russia, and others via COVAX.
Japan is also sending 11 million via COVAX this month to Bangladesh, Cambodia, Iran, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka and others.
Canada has committed an additional 17.7 million excess doses this week to the 100 million already pledged through COVAX, which is coordinated by Gavi, a vaccine alliance. France has delivered 1.7 million doses worldwide through June with COVAX and is sending millions more this summer.
In addition to distributing certain donated vaccines, financial contributions to COVAX also help fund the purchase of doses to be distributed free of charge in 92 low- and moderate-income countries.
Earlier this month, it took fierce criticism from the African Union over how long it takes for vaccines to reach the continent, noting that only 1% of Africans are fully vaccinated.
Gavi said the lack of vaccines so far this year is because the main supplier of COVAX, the Serum Institute of India, has diverted production to home use.
In its latest supply forecast, however, Gavi shows that deliveries are just starting to increase sharply and are still on track to meet the target of around 1.5 billion doses by the end of the year. , which represents 23% coverage in low- and middle-income countries, and more than 5 billion doses. by the end of 2022.
“It’s better to focus on immunizing the world and not piling up doses,” said Matheou of the Red Cross. “Sharing vaccines makes everyone safer. “
Increase reported from Bangkok. Associated Press editors Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia, Zeke Miller in Washington, Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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