As researchers race against the clock to collectively prevent the spread of Covid-19, experimental Covid-19 vaccines are injected into tens of thousands of volunteers around the world.
The pandemic that has infected 17 million people worldwide, taken more than 670,000 lives, and cost trillions of dollars in the span of half a year could be solved with a successful vaccine.
Access to a vaccine is the real problem though. According to experts, to significantly slow or prevent the spread altogether, a majority of the world’s 7.8 billion people would likely need to be inoculated to reach the critical mass or “herd immunity”.
Researchers are hopeful from early trial results though it’s not guaranteed that a successful vaccine, or several, will be found. Months or years would be needed to deliver billions of doses to all corners of the world, assuming that production capacities will be built before the vaccines are approved.
Vaccine approval in individual countries, gearing up manufacturing sites, delivery logistics and organising vaccination campaigns are the other hurdles faced in globalizing a vaccine.
If more people get the vaccine, it could be the difference between bringing the pandemic under control or further sporadic outbreaks, according to public health experts.
Jon Andrus, former deputy director of the Pan American Health Organisation, the World Health Organisation’s regional office for the Americas said “The worst case scenario is vaccine nationalism, where countries take a me first or me only attitude.”
Andrus, now an adjunct professor of global health at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health said “The doses won’t be available all at once, they will come out in tranches, so [it’s about] being prepared with policy that will target groups most efficiently everywhere.”
Andrus, who helped steer the Americas through the acquisition of vaccines during the last pandemic (H1N1 influenza back in 2009) explains that a vaccine should be first available to vulnerable populations like the elderly, those with other illnesses, and frontline health workers, as they obviously need it more.
As countries race to secure supply for their own populations, it’s a challenge of supply and demand, as hundreds of millions of potential early doses are already earmarked for heavily populated locations, i.e., the Americans, Europeans, Indians and Chinese.
The COVAX facility, a new model to offer broader vaccine access, was proposed by a coalition of health organisations.
Comprising of the World Health Organisation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the group was formed with the intention to distribute 2 billion doses equally, based on population, between participating countries by the end of next year.
According to Yvette Madrid, a Switzerland-based global health consultant who has advised the WHO on immunisation campaigns, past mechanisms that typically tried to reduce the time lag between rich nations and developing countries for first doses is broken with this plan.
“It’s much more ambitious, and that makes the whole thing very difficult,” she said.
The WHO said earlier this month that the mechanism could cover some of the 165 countries, home to 60 per cent of the global population, but it is unclear whether rich and middle-income countries and manufacturers will commit to the scheme.
Madrid said “They need to reduce vaccine nationalism in order to have a chance to get access to the [global] supply.”
Potential vaccines are already locked on by some countries. Billions of dollars were pledged by the United States in to secure candidates from pharmaceutical makers via its Operation Warp Speed platform which includes acquiring 300 million doses from AstraZeneca and an initial 100 million doses from Pfizer.
For initial immunisation, it is still unclear how many doses people would need.
30th July 18:20
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