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Gender and COVID-19 Vaccines: Listening to women-focused organizations in Asia and the Pacific

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More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed across at least 176 countries, with over 1.7 billion doses administered worldwide. Combatting the pandemic requires equitable distribution of safe and effective vaccines, however, women and girls are impacted by gaps both in the supply side and the demand side that hamper equitable distribution of the vaccine. Evidence reveals that 75 per cent of all vaccines have gone to just 10 countries, and only 0.3 per cent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.
Very few of COVID-19 vaccines are going to those most vulnerable (figure 1).

The vaccine rollout in Asia and the Pacific has been relatively slow and staggered amid secondary waves of the virus. India, despite being the largest vaccine developer, has only vaccinated 3 per cent of the population and continues to battle a variant outbreak that, at its peak, was responsible for more than half of the world’s daily COVID-19 cases and set a recordbreaking pace of about 400,000 cases per day. However, the small Pacific nation of Nauru, reported a world record administering the first dose to 7,392 people, 108 per cent of the adult population within four weeks. Bhutan also set an example by vaccinating 93 per cent of its eligible population in less than two weeks.
That success could be at risk, given the situation in India and the suspended export of vaccines.

The region faces many challenges in delivering vaccines, particularly in humanitarian emergencies in Afghanistan , Timor-Leste and Myanmar. The Asia-Pacific region is the most disaster-prone region in the world, with rapidly escalating complex humanitarian emergencies and systems for delivering relief measures that have become increasingly fragile in the context of COVID-19. As women and marginalized populations are often disproportionately affected by humanitarian emergencies, it is essential that national vaccination strategies and policies are inclusive and non-discriminatory with a tailored gender-responsive and intersectional approach to ensure those who are most vulnerable are not left behind. Women tend to be more exposed to infection, and they are likely to occupy highrisk roles, such as family caregivers and frontline health workers, thus multi-sectoral responses with targeted and protected funding for womenfocused organizations and programmes are required to reach those most in need. Vaccine programmes also present an opportunity to provide otherwise neglected services to women and vulnerable or hard to reach populations. Finally, engaging women-focused and youth/ girl-centred organizations can maximize the reach of prevention efforts so that women and girls can access immunization services and the information they need.

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