Data insight

Low life expectancy, low vaccination

Vaccine coverage is especially low in those countries with already low life expectancy at birth

Whether a population is well vaccinated correlates strongly with life expectancy at birth. Given the levels of vaccine inequity across the development spectrum, that comes as no surprise: low life expectancy correlates with lower levels of income, which also correlates with vaccine coverage. But it provides another lens to highlight how regressive the global vaccination campaign has turned out to be: it is exactly the countries where people are expected to live shorter lives that are the least protected through vaccines. 

As the chart above illustrates, much of the variation in the relationship between full vaccination and life expectancy at birth is due to the variation in income levels. High-income countries (HICs) are at the very top, followed closely by upper-middle-income countries (UMICs) even though these are characterized by much-greater dispersion in both the vaccination and the life expectancy variables. A similar pattern holds true for the lower-middle-income countries (LMICs). Low-income countries (LICs) universally have suffered both low life expectancy and low vaccination rates.

The gallery below drills down a little deeper into the heterogeneity we observe within each income group, where we have labelled the largest countries in the sample with their country codes. 

The following patterns are apparent:

  • Among HICs, the relationship is pretty flat. There is considerable variation in the life expectancy variable: from low 70s to mid 80s, but the vaccination rate holds up pretty well. Note the value for the US, which is an outlier not just in terms of its population size but also its comparatively low vaccination rate and life expectancy.
  • Among UMICs, we see more diversity in both dimensions. Life expectancy varies from the 60s to the 80s, whereas the vaccination rate is currently all over the place. Where the US is a “negative outlier” among HICs, note how China is a “positive outlier” among UMICs. 
  • Among LMICs, the dispersion in life expectancy is equally larger but at a lower level: from the mid 50s to upper 70s. Vaccination is systematically lower than what we observed among the UMICs. Notice India, which outperformed many of its peers on the vaccination front.
  • Among LICs,  the relationship between life expectancy and vaccination is mostly flat. We see considerable heterogeneity (at lower levels) in life expectancy but almost universally the vaccination rate is very low. 

Once again this underscores the highly regressive nature of vaccination progress. The poorest countries are the worst off in both dimensions. The visualizations in this post remind us of the fact that vaccine inequity reflects broader inequities in global health and international development.