I read in the news that some organizations/poorer countries have been complaining that western countries are hoarding the Covid 19 vaccines. I have doubts about how true this is.

True, some countries did buy a few times more vaccine doses than the whole population. But it doesn't necessarily follow that these countries are hoarding the vaccines, to the point that others can't get their share on time. The others could also have purchased more vaccines than they ever need ( AKA hoarding the vaccines), provided that they can afford the bill and send in the order early enough.

Furthermore, there is a shelf-life with regards to the use of the vaccines, so what's the economical point of hoarding them?

Is there anything that I've missed?

  • 1
    This question would also be on-topic for skeptics (but don’t post it there since posting the same question in 2 places is against the rules iirc) Jun 26, 2021 at 12:39
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    @EkadhSingh To be on topic at Skeptics.SE, the OP would have to replace "I read in the news ..." with a link to a news article, and not just a random news article. It would have to be a "notable" news article. You are correct that cross-posting is frowned upon. Jun 26, 2021 at 15:24
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    Re "others can't get their share on time", how is this meaningful? The vaccines are largely the product of private companies, so there's no "share" involved. That said, the US has already purchased many millions of doses and donated them to other countries, and has announced plans to donate many more doses: whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/10/…
    – jamesqf
    Jun 27, 2021 at 0:09
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    The US was blockading exports to Canada and AFAIK still is with some exemptions. Jun 29, 2021 at 1:20
  • Could you please link the reports you have read. After doing a Google search, I've not found this a "West" thing as much as a "Rich Nation" thing. Have Russia and China been supplying Poor nations in any way better than "Western" nations?
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 30, 2021 at 13:09

4 Answers 4


The reason that western countries ordered more vaccine than they needed is because, at the time many of these orders were placed, these vaccines were still in various clinical trial phases. It was assumed at the time that many of these vaccines would not work, and so ordering excess was done to ensure that, should one become available, they were able to get their shipments in early.

Poor countries do not have as much ability to make risky orders like this, because they simply have less money available to them. This means that they're unable to place orders until the vaccines have been proven, by which point they have to go to the back of the queue behind those richer countries who did take the risk and got contracts in early.

When a country orders tens of millions of doses of vaccine, they're not delivered all at once, because the process of manufacturing vaccines is a complicated one. Part of the contracts between countries and vaccine manufacturers will include delivery schedules, indicating how many vaccine doses they can expect to receive in each month/quarter. This means most countries who have ordered excess still haven't received their entire orders yet, giving them the ability to either donate the excess, cancel the order for the excess, or do something else with them.

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    Also the cost of vaccines is higher at the beginning: more demand and less supply (both in production capabilities and different types of vaccines in the market). Poor countries could not outbid rich countries.
    – SJuan76
    Jun 26, 2021 at 10:48
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    @SJuan76 Which of course also means that the early-buy countries are effectively subsidizing vaccines for the late comers; exchanging money for time all over again.
    – Luaan
    Jun 26, 2021 at 16:59
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    Don't forget that the orders funded the development of those vaccines. Ordering more than were required was a method of funding the development of many different types.
    – DrMcCleod
    Jun 26, 2021 at 18:38
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    @DrMcCleod Are you sure about that? I assumed the development was funded separately, e.g. by grants from the NIH and analogous agencies in other countries.
    – Barmar
    Jun 27, 2021 at 2:04
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    @Barmar, this differs from case to case. Some commercial companies got public grants for R&D, but building factories is also expensive.
    – o.m.
    Jun 27, 2021 at 10:23

There are indeed a few cases where vaccines were held until close to expiry, and only then donated. Or destroyed, if the logistics didn't work out. But:

  • Many vaccines require a second jab, a few weeks or months later. Delivery schedules have been erratic. So if a health system gets a million doses today, do they use them for a million people or do they hold back half for the second jab? This was even more complicated when the effectiveness of mixed vaccinations (e.g. first AstraZeneca, then Moderna) was unclear. One patient means two doses, and would it be fair to start with the first dose if the second dose cannot be assured?
  • On a related note, many rich nations are reaching the point where anybody who wants the first jab can get it. A significant part of the population doesn't want it. Would it be moral to donate the free doses now, or should they be kept in case the people reconsider?
  • As Joe C pointed out, rich nations placed speculative orders on vaccines which were not yet approved at the time, from factories which were not yet built. Some nations came close to ordering enough of each type, just in case it was the first to be approved and delivered. Expensive, but not as expensive as a prolonged lockdown. Depending on the contracts, they might have several hundred percent over-supply once all contracts are fulfilled. Not yet.
    Others ordered from half a dozen companies with enough for their residents if two or three out of the candidate vaccines came through.
  • No real moral problem as more can always be made and the ones we have a limited life span- so no reason to hold back. Jun 27, 2021 at 7:03
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    @user2617804, right now most of the West is still in the situation where vaccine production is the bottleneck, not the rollout. This will probably change in a few weeks. So sure, donate stockpiles early enough before they expire. But give the second dose away in the hope that the companies will deliver more? Perhaps not.
    – o.m.
    Jun 27, 2021 at 10:21

According to euronews:

The US has discouraged exports of American-made vaccines so it can inoculate its own population first, while the EU has become the world's leading provider.
Macron hit back at the criticisms, arguing that "the Anglo-Saxons block many of these ingredients" needed to make vaccines, referring to Washington and London.
“Today, 100% of vaccines produced in the United States of America are for the American market.”


Depends what you mean by hoarding.

The vaccine is certainly not being distributed to all at the same rate.

Thirty-five countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, and including highly populated nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (0.04%), Vietnam (1.63%), and Ethiopia (1.65%), have so far vaccinated less than 2% of their citizens. Seventy-five countries have reached less than 10% of their populations.

Taking a wikipedia map as of its last upload on June 26, 2021:

enter image description here

In the early months of vaccine availability there was a fair bit of "vaccine nationalism" by the US and the EU to get first access. And that included the EU asserting rights over access basically because the manufacturing facility was on EU soil.

Citing Economist, March 13, 2021:

Since January 29th, companies wanting to export vaccines from the EU have had to seek permission from both the country where production takes place and the European Commission. Trade is still flowing; by March 9th the EU had exported 34m vaccine doses to 31 countries. But the process now involves extra paperwork, missed flights and general uncertainty. In one case the checks delayed jabs meant for a trial in Latin America. They also disrupted a shipment that was going abroad and had been intended to validate the quality of a bigger batch meant for the EU. (Both were eventually approved.)

An AZ vaccine shipment to Australia got blocked by Italy in March.

And the US banned exports on some vaccine manufacturing inputs to India (at least until April).

This is lessening as supply issues due to high demand for vaccines is gradually being replaced by government concern at overcoming vaccine hesitancy in a number of countries, such as France or the US.

As a Canadian, I am happy to a beneficiary of both a strong purchasing program and strong public uptake. BC, where I live has 78% of first-shotted adults and the 2nd shots are also trending up nicely. Covid rates, "coincidentally", are crashing down.

But I can't help but think that our drive to vaccinate even 12 year olds sounds like luxury to many less fortunate countries.

Given that covid has shown itself to be quite adept at mutating to more problematic strains, we should be cautious at patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves that all is well: pockets of high infection rates in poorer countries can easily come back to bite us, as they already have.

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