A healthcare worker holds up a vial of Pfize's Covid-19 vaccine

A health worker shows a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Santiago, Chile on January 10, 2022.

(Photo: Javier Torres/AFP via Getty Images)

As US Moves On From Pandemic, Demand for Covid Vaccines Wanes in Global South

"You're telling us the pandemic is over?" said one global public health official. "It's disingenuous."

Four months after U.S. President Joe Biden said in a television interview that "the pandemic is over," global immunization experts are warning that "pandemic fatigue" may be contributing to declining demand for Covid-19 vaccines in developing countries, even as vaccination rates in the Global South are far below the World Health Organization's target.

As The Washington Post reported Wednesday, Covax, the WHO-backed vaccine sharing initiative launched in 2020, expects to deliver about 400 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in 2023, compared to roughly one billion doses that were distributed in lower-income countries in 2021 and 2022.

"As long as Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in reaching widespread protection, there is a dangerous gap which the virus can exploit to come roaring back."

Millions of doses sent to South Africa were thrown away in the second half of 2022, according to the Post, though only a third of the nation's population is fully vaccinated. WHO has called on countries to ensure 70% or more of each country's population is vaccinated against the coronavirus, but just 20% of people in low-income countries were immunized as of December.

The Post's report comes as some public health experts in the U.S. have criticized the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for moving on from pandemic mitigation measure such as pushing for mask-wearing during Covid-19 surges, using metrics such as overwhelmed hospitals—rather than transmission numbers—to determine whether communities are considered to be at high risk for outbreaks, and shortening the recommended isolation period for people who have been infected.

As Science Newsreported last month, when Biden declared the pandemic over in September, 10,000 deaths from Covid-19 were still being recorded each week—"10,000 too many, when most of these deaths could be prevented," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time.

Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Union's African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, told the Post Wednesday that "wealthy nations were sending the wrong message to other countries that were not as highly vaccinated."

"You're telling us the pandemic is over?" Alakija said. "It's disingenuous."

Pandemic fatigue has also become evident in vaccination rates in the U.S., with only half of the country's vaccinated population having received booster shots, according to the CDC.

The larger vaccination gaps in the lower-income countries could raise the chance that new variants emerge and spread across the globe, public health experts have long warned.

"As long as Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in reaching widespread protection," Matshidiso Moeti, Africa director for WHO, said in October, "there is a dangerous gap which the virus can exploit to come roaring back."

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