The UK became the first Western country to authorize a coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, a crucial moment in the global fight against COVID-19.
UK regulators granted emergency authorization for a vaccine made by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. A final analysis of the Phase 3 trial of the vaccine shows it was 95 percent effective in preventing infections. The vaccine was also found to have no serious side effects aside from fatigue, Pfizer revealed last month.
“We believe it is really the start of the end of the pandemic,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told CNN this week. Pfizer CEO Alberta Bourla also hailed the vaccine’s approval as a “historic moment in the fight against COVID-19”.
Britain is one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with the highest death toll in Europe. The country has been heavily criticized for its handling of the health crisis.
With Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine rolling out next week in the UK’s hospitals, what happens to the other countries? Will low- and mid-income nations be able to afford and get vaccines for their people?
Aside from the authorized vaccine, several others are still waiting approval by health authorities. But even before their approval, the US and rich European nations have already signed contracts to billions of does from companies like Moderna, AstraZenenca, Johnson and Johnson, CureVac and SanofiGSK.
According to an article by the DW in November 2020, if all the vaccines get the approval they need to be officially distributed, the European Union is getting more than enough vaccines for its population.
So, what happens to poorer countries in Asia and Africa? Many less affluent nations cannot afford the make swift direct deals with pharmas to secure the much needed vaccines.
They will be dependent on COVAX, a program led by the World Health Organization, Global Vaccine Alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness.
This joint fund for equitable distribution of the coronavirus vaccines has already secured an estimated of 700 million vaccine doses so far.
COVAX aims to get two billion by the end of 2021 to cover to at least 20 percent of the population of the participating countries.
More than 189 countries have already signed up to COVAX, including wealthy economies that have joined to subsidize vaccine assess.
The prices of the vaccines also vary. AstraZeneca has said it will provide its vaccine at around US$3-4 per dose. This is five to ten times cheaper than the estimated prices of other vaccine makers.
The company also pledged to provide the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis to low- and middle-income countries.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is going to be critical for closing the gap in vaccine distribution around the world. The vaccine is easier to transport and store since it requires only refrigeration.
Other vaccines need to be stored in special type of freezers that many clinics and hospitals do not have.
AstraZeneca is also rapidly scaling up manufacturing by sharing their technology with other vaccine makers. The company has made an agreement with the Serum Institute of India, to produce hundreds of millions of doses next year.
WHO has said it is going to prioritize countries according to their fair allocation program. This means that countries where health care systems are severely pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic will be first in line.
Many countries in Latin America are also relying on vaccines like Sinovac from Beijing and Sputnik from Russia. Sputnik V was tested in Brazil and Argentina, and those governments have secured delivery of the Russian vaccine in return.
Sinovac has signed deals to provide 46 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine to Brazil and 50 million doses to Turkey. It will also supply 40 million doses of vaccine bulk to Indonesia for local production, according to China Briefing.
CanSino, another vaccine producer in China, will deliver 35 million does to Mexico. CNBG, meanwhile, has been looking at markets in the Middle East and South America.
But the equal and fair distribution of vaccines by COVAX also relies heavily on the establishment of manufacturing facilities worldwide.
COVAX said production in at least two different countries for each of the vaccines is part of the plan.
The coronavirus vaccines need to be closer to where they are mostly needed, COVAX said.
For this pandemic to end, the distribution of these effective cures should be handled fair and square.