COVID-19 vaccines are available to 90% of the world 2024

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zadak
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COVID-19 vaccines are available to 90% of the world 2024

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COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, first came to the world's attention in December 2019 when an outbreak occurred in Wuhan, China. It soon spread to countries around the world, with WHO declaring a pandemic in March 2020. A highly contagious and airborne disease, with a mortality rate much greater than regular influenza, it became the most serious health crisis to face the world since the Spanish flu of 1918 – causing severe social disruption, mass cancellations and postponements of events, worldwide lockdowns, and the largest economic recession since the Great Depression.

Previous work to develop vaccines against related diseases, SARS (2002) and MERS (2012), led to knowledge about the structure and function of coronaviruses – which accelerated development during early 2020 of varied technology platforms for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he had approved the world's first COVID-19 vaccine, named Sputnik-V, in August 2020. However, experts raised concerns about the speed of Russia's work, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners. The WHO urged Russia to follow international guidelines and did not include the purported vaccine on its list of candidates for phase III clinical trials, which involve more widespread testing in humans.

At least 321 candidate vaccines had officially begun development by October 2020, a 2.5-fold increase since April. Of these, 33 were in phase I–II trials and nine in phase II–III trials. North America led these efforts, being home to about 40% of the world's COVID-19 vaccine research projects, compared with 30% in Asia and Australia, 26% in Europe, and a few projects in South America and Africa. Amid growing concerns over "vaccine nationalism", a coalition of 165 countries agreed a landmark deal – known as Covax – to enable the rapid and equitable distribution of any new coronavirus vaccines. This would ensure that each participating country would receive a guaranteed share of doses to vaccinate the most vulnerable 20% of its people by the end of 2021.

The United States rejected the Covax agreement, choosing instead to focus on its own public–private partnership known as "Operation Warp Speed" with nearly $10 billion allocated by Congress to develop, manufacture, and distribute hundreds of millions of vaccine doses by the end of 2020. As with Russia's Sputnik-V, many medical professionals viewed the timeline for Operation Warp Speed as unrealistic. Nevertheless, a number of promising breakthroughs in research and development occurred in late 2020 and early 2021, with several candidates completing late-stage testing.

China, meanwhile – having initially been absent from Covax – joined this global initiative in October 2020. This made it the single largest economy to participate in the alliance and helped to improve the country's image, given that it had been the epicentre of the initial outbreak in 2019, and came under heavy criticism for delays in its early response to the virus. By late 2020, China claimed to have several vaccines in advanced stages of R&D.

In India, the Serum Institute – the world's largest vaccine producer by volume – partnered with organisations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and pledged to deliver 200 million doses for low and middle-income countries at a cost of $3 per dose.

Europe had been among the regions hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of deaths per million people, with governments taking major steps to prepare for the introduction of vaccines. The UK, for example, signed deals with pharmaceutical companies to secure 340 million potential doses.

Worldwide, the initial roll out of COVID-19 vaccines would generally be limited to healthcare workers and the most vulnerable in society (the elderly, immunocompromised and so on), with a focus on cities or regions experiencing the worst infection rates. Potential "super-spreaders" such as public transport workers and retail/supermarket employees would also be given a high priority as distribution continued.

Progress with manufacturing and distribution of vaccines led to a substantial increase in availability from the second half of 2021 onwards. This continued alongside general improvements in the ability to track and contain outbreaks. However, producing enough doses to cover the entirety of the human race would take years rather than months, with a bottleneck in terms of production, and many candidate vaccines remaining at the trial stage. Billions of people gained vaccine treatments in 2022 and 2023 but the process required more time to be safely and efficiently implemented. By 2024, COVID-19 vaccines have finally been scaled up sufficiently that the vast majority (90%) of the world's 8 billion people have access to a treatment.*

The crisis has not ended, however. A significant number of infections continue to be reported daily, while many so-called recovered patients are left with a variety of lingering health issues. Large numbers of people are reluctant to be vaccinated – either due to basic scepticism about the need for vaccination, or a belief in conspiracy theories. Although more manageable now, COVID-19 remains present in the global population for decades to come.*
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