Explainer: COVID-19 vaccines shortages; which countries are struggling with supplies?

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For months, nations, researchers and pharmaceutical companies entered into a global race to find a COVID-19 vaccine as the pandemic raged across the borders.

The fight against the pandemic saw vaccine development at record speed, with more than 170 different vaccines currently in trials.


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But as vaccine contenders such as Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm received the green-light – paving the way for mass vaccination drives across the globe – now begins another race; keeping up with global demand.

Countries across the world have been reporting shortages of vaccines; hampering roll-outs of governments’ globally to deliver on ambition promises to vaccinate their individual populations.

Here are the different vaccines – and the countries which are reporting shortages.


Pfizer in mid-January announced it would temporarily reduce deliveries of its vaccine while it upgrades capacity at its plant in Belgium. Countries soon after began reporting shortages of the dose, or announced cutbacks to vaccination roll-out schemes.

In the Middle East, many countries have been affected.

Last week, Dubai announced it had postponed its Pfizer-BioNtech vaccination campaign for people scheduled to receive their first dose of the vaccine, amid a global supply shortage of the dose. Campaigns in Saudi Arabia, Italy, and other countries were also postponed.

A man receives a dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Reuters)
A man receives a dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Reuters)

In Europe, officials have also felt the impact of short supplies. The United Kingdom has warned of a critical shortage, while healthcare professionals in France, Germany and Switzerland have also reported they have bit enough doses.

It led to six European Union governments asking the executive EU Commission in a letter to pressure Pfizer-BioNTech, “to ensure stability and transparency of timely deliveries” of vaccines against COVID-19.

The letter, signed by the health ministers of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, said Pfizer/BioNTech had told them that agreed vaccine deliveries in the coming weeks would be substantially reduced.

Reports show that Americas have also complained supply doesn’t meet demand.

In the US, calls for more delivers ar also abound, as Pfizer juggles global demand.

Answering growing frustration over vaccine shortages, President Joe Biden announced this week that the US is ramping up deliveries to hard-pressed states over the next three weeks and expects to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall.

Shortages have been so severe that some vaccination sites around the US had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments with people seeking their first shot.

A health worker displays a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (File photo: AP)
A health worker displays a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (File photo: AP)

This week, Canada also announced it won’t receive a single vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine due to an international shortage – causing provinces to temporarily delay their vaccine rollouts. Over the next month, Canada’s vaccine deliveries will be cut in half with up to 400,000 doses delayed.

Pfizer/BioNTech said they are working flat out to boost production of their Covid-19 vaccine, but warned there will be gaps in supply until others are rolled out.

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Similarly, British Swedish vaccine maker AstraZeneca – approved for use across European Union countries, the UK, Argentina, India and Mexico, among others, have also come under fire over shortages.

The company has infuriated the EU by saying it can deliver only a fraction of the doses it promised for the first quarter of the year.

The bloc agreed to buy up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last year.

A health worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Reuters)
A health worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Reuters)

AstraZeneca blames production issues at European plants, but the EU says doses made elsewhere should make up the shortfall.

The EU has been criticized for the slow rollout of its vaccinations.

Shortages have led to some countries banning exports on vaccines to ensure their own population needs are met.

Earlier this month, India banned the export of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for several months, the head of Serum Institute of India, which has been contracted to make 1 billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations, said at the time.


In September, the UAE was the first country outside China to approve emergency use of the Asian nation’s Sinopharm vaccine. So far, no shortages of the vaccine have been reported. China’s state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm is ready to supply at least 10 million COVID-19 vaccine vials to the Philippines this year, its local distributor said Tuesday.

Mark Tolentino, president and CEO of MKG Universal Drugs Trading Corp., told CNN Philippines that the concerned parties were still on the negotiation stage, but noted there would be no problem when it comes to the volume of available vaccines.

MKG is the sole and exclusive distributor of Sinopharm in the country.


As for China’s other vaccine frontrunner – Sinovac - several Asia countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and the Phillipines and Indonesia, as well as international countries such as Bahrain and Brazil, have approved the vaccine. Turkey has ordered 50 million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac and this week received 6.5million doses of the vaccine.

To date, only Brazil has reported potential shortages. The São Paulo government has ordered 46 million doses of the vaccine, with 6 million doses made available after the regulator’s approval. However, this batch will soon run out and Beijing has not yet approved shipment of ingredients needed to make more, according to latest reports.

Sputnik V

Rather than a shortfall, Russia been offering its homemade vaccine to other countries against a backdrop of shortages of other coronavirus vaccines.

A nurse shows the Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a clinic in Moscow on December 5, 2020. (AFP)
A nurse shows the Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a clinic in Moscow on December 5, 2020. (AFP)

This week Russia offered the EU doses of its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine. In the second quarter of 2021, Russia could deliver 100 million doses of Sputnik V to the EU, the public investment fund that co-finances and sells the vaccine said on Friday.

The doses could be used to vaccinate 50 million people, as two doses are needed for immunity.

In Russia, some 1.5 million people have already received the two doses, reports the Belga news agency.

However, Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine could only be used in the EU if it is approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is currently analyzing it.

Read more:

Coronavirus: Dubai temporarily postpones Pfizer vaccine campaign amid global shortage

Coronavirus: Germany expects COVID-19 vaccine shortage to continue until April

US boosts delivery of COVID-19 vaccines amid shortages

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