Who’s Winning The Race For The COVID Vaccine?

March 26, 2021

By Orbex

The covid vaccine has become an acute point of focus that has tensioned international relations.

Every country is desperate to get its population vaccinated first. This has led to some significant geopolitical friction that spills over into the markets. Some have even used the phrase “vaccine wars”, as politics pushes to the forefront over health in the vaccine rollout.

Perhaps the most known is the tension between the UK and the European Union over the procurement of vaccines.

The UK is leaps and bounds ahead of the EU in its vaccine roll-out. In fact, they approved the vaccines for distribution long before their continental peers.


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EU authorities have gotten to the point of banning vaccine exports, while other EU authorities worry about nationalism being an impediment to equitable vaccine distribution around the world.

The state of play

Some countries stand out because of certain particularities.

For example, small countries would find it easier to vaccinate their entire population, especially if they put vaccination above virtually all other political priorities.

That’s the case of Israel, for example. The cofuntry has administered more vaccines than the entirety of its population. They reached a vaccination rate of 104% at the beginning of the week. Of course, Israel also has a highly productive domestic pharmaceutical industry.

Another outlier, and second place in the vaccine race, is Seychelles. With a population of less than 100,000 and being a relatively isolated island nation, it was simply more practical to vaccinate almost the entire population with just one shipment.

Third place is the UAE, also a relatively small country with significant oil wealth. This allowed them to pay a premium to secure deliveries from multiple partners.

The market reaction

But for international capital markets, it’s the large economies with large populations that have the biggest impact.

The disparate vaccination programs imply an unequal evolution of different economies, which suggests interesting trading opportunities.

The UK still remains at the forefront, having vaccinated just under 40% of their population. Combined with the number of people who have also already had the disease, the UK is within range of reaching herd immunity.

If by “large” countries, we consider over 10 million people, then Chile has rocketed to second place close behind the UK. It’s likely to be the first Latin American and Emerging Market country to reach herd immunity.

Accusations and counter-accusations

The US has reached 33.4% of vaccinations. This unintentionally contradicts the narrative of EU authorities who argue that it’s that the vaccination suppliers that have not met their delivery commitments.

The US is of a similar size and has faced the same supply delays as Europe. However, it has vaccinated three times as many people.

The AstraZeneca vaccine which has generated much controversy isn’t authorized in the US, where they rely on Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J versions. A point illustrated within the EU, with Malta having over 30% of its population vaccinated, unlike the rest of the EU, after having placed more orders for vaccines than any of its counterparts.

Meanwhile, the vaccination rate in the European Union is 11.3%. But that’s just the first dose. When considering “fully vaccinated” people, it’s still only 4.9%.

Europe expects to complete its vaccination program by the end of fall. This is in comparison to the end of spring for the US and UK.

By Orbex