The vaccination frontrunner Israel happens to be also an innovation superpower and the top ten best performers by inoculation rates occupy leading spots in innovation rankings. Do innovation hotbeds do better in the COVID19 vaccination race?

As the world gets its first glimpse of post-pandemic life from Israel, governments globally are struggling to catch up. Almost 60 per cent of Israelis have been vaccinated against COVID19 to date. This is more than double the rate of any other country immunizing with equivalent vaccines according to the latest data, and a far cry from the second and third best performers (Fig.1).

Fig.1. Israel is winning the vaccination race globally

(COVID19 doses administered per 100 people, 31 March 2021)

Source: OWGD, 2021.

Note: The sample includes countries with a population of over 1 million that vaccine with internationally peer-reviewed vaccines for comparability.


It is difficult to ignore that some of the top performers in terms of inoculation rates also happen to occupy top spots in global innovation rankings. Israel has been famously dubbed a “start-up nation”, a reputation that precedes it in academia, business, and foreign relations. The UK and US have a longstanding tradition in innovation, consistently ranking in top positions by various measures of innovation performance. Within continental Europe, the Nordic countries – Denmark, Norway, and Finland – measure up to much larger and geopolitically more significant economies in terms of innovation, capitalizing on their quality education systems and tradition in the invention. Estonia has risen to stardom as a digital powerhouse, whose approaches to digitalization are recognized and imitated worldwide. Within the region of Central and Eastern Europe, Austria surpasses its regional peers as a local innovation hub.

Fig.2. Innovation scores are positively correlated with vaccination rates

(Log WIPO Global Innovation Index (GII) y-axis; log vaccination rate x-axis)

Fig.2. Innovation scores are positively correlated with vaccination rates
Source: Global Innovation Index (GII) Rankings 2020, OWGD, 2021.

Note: GII innovation scores, developed by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), serve as a yardstick for measuring innovation by the UN General Assembly, and includes relevant innovation inputs (human capital, research, business & market sophistication) and outputs (knowledge, tech, and creative results).

An analysis of a sample of over 90 countries with a population of over 1 million, shows a positive correlation between the ability to innovate and the COVID19 vaccination rates (Fig.2). To some extent, the robustness of domestic research – especially, domestic vaccine development – may help in boosting country vaccination rates. The unparalleled speed of the COVID19 vaccine development was predicated upon a series of innovations and investments preceding the pandemic. For example, both, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines piggyback on the pre-COVID era synthetic messenger RNA technology – a clever variation on the natural substance that directs protein production in cells throughout the body – researched as early as in the 1990s. Development of these vaccines occurred in the US and the UK, the 2nd and 3rd vaccination top performers, while Germany where BioNTech is headquartered, shows the fifth highest net vaccination rate in the world. But the robustness of domestic R&D alone fails to satisfyingly explain Israel’s success. Israeli companies neither developed nor produced the vaccines that millions of its citizens are being jabbed with, and yet it has successfully secured and distributed immunizations to over half of its population in a matter of months.

Effective Decision-making

The efficacy of national vaccination campaigns may additionally depend on less glossy fields such as manufacturing, logistics, procurement channels and practices but also public sector’s savviness and institutional fundamentals, including country leadership’s ability to leverage existing trade links, policy foresight, and government digitalization. A plot against the latest World Bank Governance Indicators seems to corroborate the narrative, where institutional quality seems to explain roughly 30 per cent of the variation in country vaccination rates (Fig.3).

Fig.3. Institutional quality is positively correlated with vaccination rates

(World Bank Governance indicators (2019) y-axis; log vaccination rate x-axis)

Fig.3. Institutional quality is positively correlated with vaccination rates
Source: World Bank Governance Indicators database; OWGD, 2021.

While Israel outbid its European peers on the Pfizer vaccines and agreed to retain product liability, its leading asset in the vaccination race has been its highly centralized and digitalized healthcare system that enabled such vast logistical healthcare operation. Prior to the pandemic, Israel has budgeted almost $300 million to consolidate and standardize its healthcare databases, making it a prime location for large-scale medical studies requiring big data.  Other vaccination frontrunners, particularly, the UK, Denmark, Norway are also notable digital government leaders.

Still, innovation prowess and effective governments fail to explain the lacklustre vaccination performance of some other countries, including South Korea, Japan, Thailand or New Zealand. They have done well in tackling the virus by broad testing, tracking & tracing, leveraging their experience with past epidemics and exploiting novel technologies. Although they, too, are facing resurgences of the virus, governments do not feel the same urgency to step up vaccinating because infections are largely under control. Europe, the US and other major markets, in contrast, face a very different foe: a rampant, uncontrolled spread that is deadly and threatens their healthcare systems, economies and social stability. This pattern is absent in Asian nations which had in place the mechanisms to interfere early and firmly.

This article was originally published on the LSE COVID19 blog