Reaching herd immunity will be a challenge for developing Asia, UN official says

SINGAPORE — Achieving herd immunity against Covid-19 could be difficult for developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region, a UN official told CNBC.

Herd immunity refers to the situation where a disease cannot spread easily within a population because most people have become immune to it, either as a result of vaccination or past infection.

Around 60% to 70% of the population needs to be inoculated to reach this state, said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

“I think that is quite a challenge,” she told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Wednesday.

“If we see the data so far, progress has been quite low with the exception of a few advanced countries,” she said during an interview as part of the Asian Development Bank’s virtual Southeast Asia Development Symposium.

Even though some countries have placed vaccine orders, and others may even have supplies on hand, “implementation on the ground is quite slow,” she added.

Other challenges in the rollout

A medic holds Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin vials during the countrywide inoculation drive, in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.

Vishal Bhatnagar | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Alisjahbana pointed out that there’s help in the form of Covax, a global alliance that seeks to provide vaccines to poorer countries — but supply is still limited for now.

“One of the major issues — especially now because it’s still early on (in) the vaccination program and its implementation — is the adequate supply,” she said.

But she noted that production is ramping up and more vaccines are being approved by the World Health Organization and national authorities.

“In the coming months, I hope the vaccination plan will be (sped) up, including in developing countries,” she said.

She added that she expects inoculations to pick up in the second half of the year and accelerate further in 2022.

If countries can be consistent and speed up vaccinations for high risk groups and essential workers, then economies and borders can start to open up, she said.

“Economic activities, including tourism and so on, (the) flow of goods, flow of people can start to resume,” Alisjahbana said.

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