Globally, access to COVID-19 vaccines has been uneven. More than one year since vaccines became widely available in high-income Western countries, many lower-income countries have struggled with supply and have notably low rates of vaccination. With each new wave and each new variant, this gap has widened. As of April 2022, approximately 65 percent of the world’s population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine; among low-income countries the rate averaged 15 percent. In fact, as of February 2022, more booster shots had been administered in wealthy countries than total doses in low-income countries.

This disparity has particularly acute consequences for the world’s 26.6 million refugees, 85 percent of whom live in developing nations. On paper, many of these refugees and other internationally displaced people have long had access to the vaccine. As of June 2021, 98 percent of the 126 countries hosting at least 500 refugees had planned to include them in vaccine distribution, in commitments made either through formal vaccination plans or to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But while there appears to be will from many national governments to extend vaccines to refugees, a gap remains in individuals’ ability to actually access them.

Largely, refugees are in countries with underfunded public institutions, meaning that even in the best of times their access to essential services is limited. In many countries, refugees’ lack of identity documents represents a barrier to health-care access, as does the large numbers of individuals who might qualify as refugees but have not applied for protection or who for other reasons lack status. In major refugee-hosting countries such as Iran and Pakistan, vulnerable individuals have been estimated to number in the millions, but their lack of legal status leaves then excluded from formal vaccination schemes. People who have fled war but are unauthorized in their new countries might also distrust authorities or have legitimate fears of being targeted for arrest or deportation, which can prevent them from seeking vaccination.

Read the full article about vaccine inequity by Jhinuk Mukhopadhyay and Gauri Thampi at Migration Policy Institute.