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Achieving herd immunity will be a challenge for Asia’s development, says UN official

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

Herd immunity refers to the situation in which a disease cannot easily spread within a population because most people have become immune to it either from vaccination or from previous infection.

Around 60% to 70% of the population must be vaccinated 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’s quite a challenge,” she told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia on Wednesday.

“If we see the data so far, the progress has been quite modest with the exception of some advanced countries,” she said during an interview at the Asian Development Bank’s Southeast Asia Virtual Development Symposium.

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

Further challenges during the rollout

There are other challenges to successful vaccination programs as well.

Alisjahbana named the timely supply, limited financial resources and poor logistics infrastructure as obstacles that stand in the way of developing countries. Another approach is equitable access, which refers to equitable distribution to all who need it.

Richer nations have bought vaccines and placed bulk orders, leaving poorer developing countries at the bottom of the queue. Many of these countries may not have the money to buy enough cans.

A medical professional holds Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin vials during the nationwide vaccination campaign in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India on Saturday, February 6, 2021.

Vishal Bhatnagar | NurPhoto | Getty Images

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

“One of the main problems – especially now because it is still like that Early (in) the vaccination program and its implementation – is the adequate supply, “she said.

However, she noted that production is increasing and more vaccines are being approved by the World Health Organization and national authorities.

“I hope the vaccination schedule will be accelerated in the coming months, including in developing countries,” she said.

She added that she expects vaccinations to increase in the second half of the year and further accelerate in 2022.

If countries can be consistent and speed up vaccinations for high-risk groups and key workers, economies and borders can open, she said.

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

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Katherine Clark