Worldwide Vaccination Progress

A plane sitting on a runway is unloaded by several people.

The first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 is unloaded from a plane at Beirut International Airport, Lebanon February 13, 2021.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic it became clear that the disease was highly communicable and deadly. The number of people needing hospitalization was so high, healthcare systems around the world became overwhelmed. A vaccine was needed quickly. Prior to 2020, the fastest vaccine development was in the 1960s for mumps—4 years—but most vaccines took 10 to 15 years to be developed.

In response to the pandemic, the global scientific community came together to share resources, information, and insights. Remarkably, as 2020 wore on, it became clear that effective vaccines would be possible, and more important, possible quickly. Several vaccines moved into clinical trials (human testing) and by February 18, 2021, seven different COVID-19 vaccines had been approved by several countries for use. There are another 200 vaccine candidates in development and 60 of those are in clinical trials.

Now the world faces an epic logistical challenge distributing COVID-19 vaccines around the planet. On top of the monumental effort of moving billions of vaccines from one place to another, some of the vaccines need to be stored at ‑70 degrees Celsius (‑94 Fahrenheit) until just hours before they are used. Special freezers are needed to maintain this extreme temperature. There is also the issue of making sure there is equitable allocation of the vaccines for all countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) along with several partners, is working with governments and manufacturers to distribute the vaccines fairly.

The road to vaccinating the world will be long, but progress is already being made. As of February 22, over 217 million people had received at least one dose of a vaccine—about 2.8 percent of the world’s population. Israel had vaccinated about 87 percent of its population; the United Arab Emirates about 56 percent; and the United States about 19 percent. President Biden announced that he expects that everyone in the United States would be able to receive a vaccination by August 2021.

Image credit: ©Mohamed Azakir/Reuters/Alamy

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