(Bloomberg) – Just a few weeks ago, much of the world seemed ready to leave COVID behind.
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, declared that the country was close to independence from the virus. The British took to the dance floor to celebrate “Freedom Day.” Singapore’s legendary strict government said it would begin to relax its zero-case approach and make life and travel more manageable.
But if those places were ready to end the covid, the covid was not finished with them.
The US vaccination campaign came across the delta variant head-on. The reopening of the United Kingdom has coincided with a new increase in cases and fears of a “prolonged covid” in young people. In Africa, deaths have skyrocketed as vaccine supplies remain in short supply. And in Japan, the increase in infections has forced the already postponed Summer Olympics to be held in empty stadiums.
Around the world, people and governments are discovering that covid will not go extinct, but is more likely to persist and become endemic. With that will come late recoveries in places that have had the least access to vaccines. And countries rich in vaccines and resources will continue to face their own economic and health consequences, as the US and the UK are discovering.
Vaccines have made a difference where they have been widely deployed. In recent weeks, cases in the UK have increased dramatically, but there has been no equivalent increase in deaths and the number of new infections has decreased in recent days. Vaccines are literally lifesavers.
At the current rate of vaccination, 75% of the population of the European Union will be inoculated within two months, a level that may be enough to roll back the virus. China and the United Kingdom are progressing at a similar pace, according to tracking by Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
But after moving quickly, it will take eight to nine months for the now-stagnant US vaccination campaign to reach 75% coverage due to outbreaks that are persistently resistant to vaccines in some parts of the country. Other places are in a more desperate situation: Indonesia, with a violent outbreak, is a year and a half away. India will need another year, at the current rate. In Africa, countries like Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are at least a year away from achieving it, or much longer, according to Bloomberg analysis.
Many low-income countries rely on the global Covax mechanism, the program created last year to distribute vaccines equitably to every corner of the globe. But the initiative has delivered just 140 million doses of the 1.8 billion it intended to provide in early 2022, hit by delays in supplies from India.