Mar 11 2022

Covid-19 in the Global South: Has Herd Immunity Been Reached?


In January, NPR posted an article detailing research from Malawi that showed that the country may have already reached herd immunity against Covid-19! 

At Global G.L.O.W. the issue of vaccine access is an important one. In 2022, we have over 15,000 girls in our programming and the majority of those girls are in the Global South—countries that have routinely had limited access to Covid-19 vaccines. As we look at the landscape of our programming, the risks of Covid-19 and the extreme ways communities around the world have been impacted by Covid-19 and subsequent restrictions, we can’t help but be frustrated by the limited supply of vaccines that are available to countries in the Global South.

However, this research reported by NPR in January showing possible herd immunity in Malawi is a game changer! 

What Factors Contributed to Reaching Near Herd Immunity Against Covid-19?

Simply put, the population of Malawi is very young, with the median age being 18 years old. While there are youth who develop severe cases of Covid-19, the majority remain asymptomatic or with a case that is not severe enough to go to the hospital. Because of that, researchers believe that Covid-19, in various waves during the different strains, swept through the country a number of times, and caused increased immunity with each new wave. Only 5% of Malawians have been vaccinated, which also plays a factor in this researcher’s hypothesis.

Amazingly, similar studies in Kenya, Madagascar, and South Africa have shown the same promising research- reaching near herd immunity to Covid-19. Although, unfortunately, the previous waves in South Africa came at a high cost- swamping hospitals with cases because their population is significantly older than the one in Malawi. 

Whilst the risk of Covid-19 remains high in many places and the access to vaccines is still unfairly available at a significantly higher rate in the Global North, this trend in Malawi, Kenya, Madagascar, and South Africa has me breathing a sigh of relief. Typically, it’s the most underserved around the world who get the brunt of the consequences of crises like global pandemics. I’m hopeful that for herd immunity to Covid-19, that may not always be the case.

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