Rich nations first in line once COVID-19 vaccines become available


While COVID-19 vaccines are still being developed and tested by pharmaceutical companies, wealthy nations have already locked up and reserved more than a billion doses of whatever will be proven to work.

This development is raising worries that the rest of the world will be at the back of the queue in the global effort to defeat the pathogen.

The United States and Britain have already made arrangements to secure supplies from Sanofi and partner Glaxo Smith Kline.

Another pact between Japan and Pfizer, are the latest in a string of agreements, while the European Union has also been aggressive in obtaining shots, well before anyone knows whether they will work.

Although international groups and a number of nations are promising to make vaccines affordable and accessible to all, doses will likely struggle to keep up with demand in a world of roughly 7.8 billion people.

The possibility that wealthier countries will monopolise supply, a scenario that played out in the 2009 swine flu pandemic, has fuelled concern among poor nations and health advocates.

The US, Britain, EU and Japan have so far secured about 1.3 billion doses of potential COVID-19 immunisations, according to London-based analytics firm Airfinity. Options to snap up additional supplies or pending deals would add more than 1.5 billion doses to that total, its figures show.

“Even if you have an optimistic assessment of the scientific progress, there’s still not enough vaccines for the world,” according to Mr. RasmusBech Hansen, Airfinity’s chief executive officer. What is also important to consider is that most of the vaccines may require two doses, he said.

A few front runners, such as the University of Oxford and partner Astra Zeneca and a Pfizer-BioNTech collaboration, are already in final-stage studies, fuelling hopes that a weapon to fight COVID-19 will be available soon.

But developers must still clear a number of hurdles: proving their shots are effective, gaining approval and ramping up manufacturing.

Worldwide supply may not reach one billion doses until the first quarter of 2022, Airfinity forecasts.

Investing in production capacity all over the world is seen as one of the keys to solving the dilemma, and pharma companies are starting to outline plans to deploy shots widely.

Sanofi and Glaxo intend to provide a significant portion of worldwide capacity in 2021 and 2022 to a global initiative that is focused on accelerating development and production and distributing shots equitably.

The World Health Organisation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance are working together to bring about equitable and broad access. They outlined a US$18 billion plan in June to roll out shots and secure two billion doses by the end of 2021.

The initiative, known as Covax, aims to give governments an opportunity to hedge the risk of backing unsuccessful candidates and give other nations with limited finances access to shots that would be otherwise unaffordable.

Countries would need to strike a series of different agreements with vaccine makers to raise their chances of getting supplies, as some shots would not succeed, a situation that could lead to bidding battles and inefficiencies, Mr. Seth Berkley, Gavi’s CEO, said in an interview.

“The thing we worry about most is getting a tangle of deals,” he said. “Our hope is with a portfolio of vaccines we can get countries to come together.”

Some 78 nations have expressed interest in joining Covax, he said. In addition, more than 90 low- and middle-income countries and economies will be able to access COVID-19 vaccines through a Gavi-led programme, the group said last Friday. There is still concern the rest of the world might fall behind.

“That is exactly what we’re trying to avoid,” Mr Berkley said. (Source: The Straits Times)