On May 8th 2021 Melissa Fleming, who works at the UN as Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, tweeted about a great inequality between the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations. She claimed that high income countries have received more than 80% of the vaccinations in comparison to low income countries who obtained only 0.3%. The claim turns out te be mostly true.
The newssite CNBC and the United Nations also covered this topic in an article, but they use different percentages than Fleming. While Melissa Fleming talks about the percentages being 0.3% and more than 80%, CNBC and the UN claim the percentages are 0.2% and 87% with headlines such as “Low-income countries have received just 0.2 per cent of all COVID-19 shots given” and “WHO says more than 87% of the world’s Covid vaccine supply has gone to higher-income countries.”
Where is the source?
Both Fleming’s tweet and the articles have the same source, namely the World Health Organization (WHO). After active, extensive research, no articles on this topic could be found on the organization’s website. Subsequently, another Twitter post by the Director General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, occured. This tweet was about a WHO press conference on this topic and was able to provide further information as well as identifying the primary source. Conclusively, this was a transcription of the WHO press conference of May 9th 2021.
The press conference
On April 9th 2021, WHO released a transcription of the press conference on coronavirus disease. Starting at minute 00:03:07, the statement dropped: “More than 700 million doses of vaccine were administered worldwide, but more than 87% went to high- or upper-middle-income countries, while low-income countries received only 0.2%.” Thus, the question arises as to how the different percentages in Under Secretary General Melissa Fleming’s post could have occurred.
On purpose or by accident?
It’s possible that Melissa Fleming posted these numbers by accident, a little typo creeps in quickly. But at a later point in the research, another tweet from Melissa on the same topic popped up with the same ‘wrong’ percentages. So maybe not a typo? An inquiry to WHO asking if it was possible that Ms. Fleming was basing her statement on other research findings was not followed by a response to date. A further enterprise was started to obtain an expert opinion on the vaccination doses administered worldwide, but this has also been unsuccessful so far.
According to Dr. Ulrike Schleier, Professor of Statistics at Jade University in Germany, the difference in the figures could have occurred for different reasons. Fleming may not have used the press release as a source but checked the databases of the UN which are based on the WHO data, possibly at a different time. “The WHO press release dates April 9, 2021, whereas the statement by Melissa Fleming is from May 11, 2021. In the meantime, the figures might have changed. There might also have been later corrections in the states’ reports. The percentages are, in any case, only estimates based on the numbers of inhabitants, which are also only estimated. In reality, the number of inhabitants in a country is not known on a daily basis. Finally, the WHO and the UN might have different definitions of what a “high income” or a “low income” country is. All of these factors might lead to slight differences in such numbers”, assumes Schleier.
Also read the related blog post The possible accuracy of global coved vaccination numbers.
No statement can be made about the background of Melissa Fleming’s statement at this point, but the fact check can be declared mostly true due to the minimal deviations of the values compared to official data.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Romy Deridder, Anna-Lena Gerlach, Nina-Julia Gleitsmann, Kira-Eileen Hillus, Phéline De Piere, Rebecca Schöllchen, Sarom Siebenhaar, Celine Stephan, Gabriella Weitman and Vivian Kim Weiß
Cross-national fact check by Jade University of Applied Science, Germany and AP University College Antwerp, Belgium
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