Vaccine rollouts around the world have upended the narrative of the pandemic’s first year, as the Asian countries that succeeded in containing Covid-19 have now fallen behind much of the West in the race toward herd immunity.
Most Asian countries have administered doses to less than 3% of their populations, while mainland China and Hong Kong have vaccinated around 5%, according to Our World in Data, a project based at Oxford University. Meanwhile, the U.S. has administered at least one dose to around 25% of the population, and the U.K. reached 41% this week.
China, whose health ministry reported about 83 million doses administered as of March 23, has yet to announce firm targets for having vaccines available to the general population, while President Biden has said the U.S. will have enough for every American adult by the end of May.
Countries like China, South Korea and Australia have been under less pressure to vaccinate because they have been so successful at containing the virus through border controls, quarantines and aggressive contact tracing. Their economies were also more resilient last year, particularly China and South Korea, boosted by a surge in Western demand for their exports.
But without herd immunity, countries risk introducing new cases of Covid-19 if they loosen border controls and social-distancing restrictions. Retaining those measures, though, weighs on their economies by making it harder to attract investors, foreign workers, tourists and students.