Older people in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand have a lower COVID-19 vaccine priority than younger people and this is causing thousands of needless deaths.

Nov 16, 2021 | All posts, Relevant news and stories

By Peter Lloyd-Sherlock

16 November 2021

Recently, WHO started to publish data on COVID-19 vaccination for older people and total population. https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiMWNjNzZkNjctZTNiNy00YmMzLTkxZjQtNmJiZDM2MTYxNzEwIiwidCI6ImY2MTBjMGI3LWJkMjQtNGIzOS04MTBiLTNkYzI4MGFmYjU5MCIsImMiOjh9

Although the site includes information for a large number of countries, several are not included. Examples include Mexico, South Africa and Peru. Presumably this is either because their health ministries are not prepared to publish these data or because WHO does not consider them sufficiently reliable. Even so, the data that are available tell an interesting story, especially with a little additional analysis.

Table 1. COVID-19 vaccination coverage for older people and total population, August 2021.

Table 1 compares the performance of four countries in Asia by the end of August 2021. In three, people aged 60 or more accounted for a lower share of doses provided than they do of the total population. This means people aged 60 or more were actually less likely to have received at least one dose than people aged from birth to 59.

The case of Sri Lanka is especially concerning. Only 3% of vaccines have been given to people aged 60 or more: an age group accounting for 16% of its total population. India appears to perform slightly better, although if we just consider the adult population (excluding people aged under 18 who make up about a third of the total population), the share aged 60 or more rises to 15%, compared to only 11% of all doses administered.

These huge discrepancies cannot be explained by the prioritisation of frontline health workers. Their numbers only equate to a small share of doses give to under 60s.

Available data indicate that for unvaccinated people aged 60 or more who are infected by COVID-19, average risk of dying is at least 1.5%. For people aged under 60, this risk falls to around 0.02%. Yet rather than prioritise older people, these countries are doing the very opposite. This is leading to many thousands of needless deaths.