In the past 2020, scientists embarked on a race to produce safe and effective coronavirus vaccines in record time. It had very much been a race against time and sometimes we wished time could stand still. As the race for a covid vaccine is over, most of us now might have to wish time could fly faster because who would have thought getting vaccines fairly for anyone in the world who wants to take it may be as difficult as producing them in the first place.
According to a New York Times analysis of data on vaccine contracts, rich countries have almost cleared the shelves. If all the doses claimed on the contracts are delivered, the European Union could inoculate its population twice, Britain and the U.S. could do so four times over, whilst many poor nations may only be able to vaccinate at most 20 percent of their residents in this year.
When it comes to getting residents vaccinated and be sooner to recover the economy, it's not hard to imagine how more and more aggressive leaders on this planet would become. the U.S. who have poured billions of dollars to back most of the promising Covid-19 vaccines may have also been the leading force that turned this vaccine procurement into a vaccination race. Their support came along with a condition: that Americans would get priority access to doses made in their country. It left the other wealthy countries with no choice but to join the buyers' force -- undermining the rest's ability to make timely purchases. Israel for instance, got a great many doses earlier than other countries, in part by paying over US$50 a dose which is about double what the EU is paying, according to the Washington Post.
Reuters had reported on Jan 29 that the EU trade commissioner said monitoring and controls of exports would initially last until the end of March, arguing it needed to do so to ensure its own supplies. Australia has just raised the issue with the European Commission to review Italy's decision to block a shipment of vaccines bound for it. As more groups being dragged into it, the vaccination race started getting fierce. Of areas that money is no object, getting a vaccine tended to be a tall order as well. For an affluent area like Taiwan, the shots haven't been administered yet, as not until Mar 03 the first batch--117,000 doses of AstraZeneca Plc vaccines-- landed on this island. As reported by Local Media CTS, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung said while the number of vaccines that arrived only represented a 'relatively small' number of what the island has ordered from AstraZeneca, the shipment marked a 'very meaningful' even for Taiwan's health workers.
The vaccine scramble is dispiriting and enabling the virus to continue to circle the globe. Undoubtedly, the vaccine is the world's best hope of overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic. For a vaccine to immunise populations effectively against the virus around 70% of people need to be vaccinated. Obviously, the population in rich world is far from that requirement. To reverse unfair vaccine access and to help to outpace new variants raging in poorer areas, then the planet, the world has to resort to COVAX - a global initiative, part-led by the WHO aims to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines. COVAS is short for Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Plan.
Statistic from Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the vaccine initiative now covers almost the entire world. As of Feb 19, 2021, the U.S. has pledged $2 billion. Before U.S involvement, Germany was the biggest COVAX donors with over $1 billion. the UK is following with $735 million pledged. China has donated 10 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the COVAX initiative to meet the urgent needs of developing countries. Ideally, over 92 low/middle-income regions could get vaccines through donations within this year.
Clearly, all economies are connected, no economy will be fully recovered unless the others are recovered. As Western countries pursue 'Americans First' and 'Europe First' vaccination strategy, other leading nations are stepping up to support as possible. India has set up a 49-country vaccine 'friendship program', while China is shipping over 1 million doses a week across Africa and has vaccinated 7 million Turks. Over 50 countries turned to Russia for help when it was unable to secure contracts with Western producers.
Data updated on Mar 5 from Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker on The New York Times show that both Russia and India have a vaccine candidate to Phase 3, authorized early and limited use respectively. China has approved two more Covid-19 vaccines for general use, added the number of its widely use vaccine to three, and there are four other candidates entered Phase 3. None of the above is an mRNA vaccine though.
As vaccine makers struggle to ramp up production, even rich countries are facing shortage and domestic pressures. Among the above three, the Chinese-made vaccine is most likely to be a practical solution to fill up the gap in vaccine procurement.
With more vaccines approved for full use in hand, China is also one of the few nations that can manufacture vaccines on a large scale. According to China's official statistics, its total annual production capacity of Covid-19 reach 610 million doses by the end of 2020 and will continue to expand significantly to meet the demand both domestic and overseas. Not urgently needing doses at home, China could be a stable part of global supply chains as well. At the same time, China's Ad5-based vaccine and Inactivated vaccine don't need expensive logistical assistance, while Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines require costly cold-chain distribution mechanisms.
According to Our World in Data numbers, as of Mar 07, in terms of first doses only, Israel and U.A.E lead the world in administered vaccinations. Another Gulf country, Bahrain rank fifth in the world. Chile leads the pack in the Latin American vaccine campaign, followed by Turkey and Brazil both are ranking in front of the world. All the above, except Israel, has willing to source vaccines outside the west, like vaccine from China, then achieved timely rollouts.
To be frank, there are concerns about China's vaccines safety and efficacy partly because China crushed the epidemic early, so they lost the chance to test the efficacy of their vaccines there. China's vaccine development might have been cursed by its dramatic success with aggressive public health measures to stop the virus. Its vaccine developers had to go abroad working with over 14 countries on five continents to get the trials done. Instead, it gave the trials better experiential circumstance. For only in UAE, it's enormous foreign workforce means trial participants come from 125 different countries, which is unlikely to happen in China.
Over 25 countries have already started inoculations using the Chinese shots. Hungary, Zimbabwe, Indonesia and Serbia are among those lining up for those jabs. For now, there have been no confirmed reports of serious side effects. On Jan 07, a report from the Sciencemag website, Brazil announces 'fantastic' results for a Chinese Covid vaccine which is effective against the UK and South African variants. While China's vaccines do have an efficacy rate below that of some Western shots, they have been shown to substantially reduce the risk of serious illness from the virus.
It's quite clear that it could take months or years to produce enough doses for every person on the planet, that's over 7.8 billion. Only if all countries work together to resist vaccine nationalism will the world win. Otherwise, we will be stuck in this lifestyle of isolation, social distancing, masks for a long, long time.