Since December 2020, three Covid vaccines have been produced by Western companies, approved by regulatory bodies considered genuine by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Americans and Europeans promote two vaccines—first, BioNTech, a German company produced by Pfizer, an American pharmaceutical company. Second, Moderna, an American biotech company. A vaccine developed at the Oxford University and produced by AstraZeneca, a Swedish pharmaceutical company, has been approved in India and Britain. Moreover, China and Russia have developed their vaccine and also authorised its use.
All the vaccines developed in less than a year after the first Covid case is an unprecedented achievement. However, vaccinations around the world invite a new challenge as politics play its part. Brazil's situation shows the damage politics can do. Since December 2020, President Jair Bolsonaro has been consistently mocking and underplaying Covid. In early June 2020, São Paulo's governor signed a deal with CoronaVac, a Chinese biotech company, to organise phase 3 trials. The deal gave the state 6 million doses and the right to make 40 million more at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo. However, Bolsonaro was not impressed by his rival's move and poured scorn on the Chinese vaccine. Later, the central government ordered 100 M doses of AstraZeneca, but it has not yet been approved in Brazil, and production could take several months.
In recent months, developing countries have been approving vaccines at a high rate. Bahia has agreed to host trials of Sputnik V, a vaccine developed in Russia and exchange for 50m doses. A private clinic in Brazil has decided to buy 5m doses of Covaxin, an experimental vaccine developed by India's Bharat Biotech. The distribution of vaccines reflects the urgent need to conduct vaccinations worldwide, especially in middle-class countries like Brazil, South Africa or India. However, the supply of vaccines developed by western countries has been snapped by the countries where the trial began or by rich neighbors. The reason for this uneven distribution might lie in the storage of western made vaccines. Two vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, require unique treatments and are also expensive to store. Therefore, these vaccines are likely to be used in small populations, such as health workers.
Europe vaccine roll-out under scrutiny
Many western countries have ordered more than they needed from various suppliers and hope that the vaccine supplies will meet their requirement for a fully up and running vaccination program. However, in Europe, the vaccine roll-out has been slow compared to the United States and Britain. First, this is primarily due to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) who have given conditional approval rather than emergency use. Second, the European member states have been purchasing the bulk of AstraZeneca's product, and EMA has not yet approved it. Similarly, the E.U. ordered a bulk of vaccines being developed by Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical company, but the outcome has been poor during trials. The third reason involves a lack of planning, logistics and random lockdowns.
It would be safe to assume that the E.U. now lacks behind in its vaccination program. In July and August, countries like the U.S., U.K., Japan and Canada had already purchased BioNTech vaccines in bulk. Therefore, it explains the delay as producers are operating on a first-come and first-serve basis and need time to build up new production sites. Moreover, Pfizer recently announced that it would re-examine its production. "We can't make predictions about the actual scale backwards in terms of deliveries with confidence, as we've stated a number of times, on the number of vaccines that will be coming on a weekly basis from Pfizer," MacCraith told RTÉ's News At One.
The End Game
Countries will observe the outcome of vaccines around the world. Mistakes such as a batch of vaccines that prove harmful or in the worst case, the discovery of side effects that researchers missed out on could derail efforts. In France, where anti-vaccine campaigns have been strong, only 40% of the population told pollsters that they are willing to take vaccines. Whereas in Ireland the situation is different, more than 70% of people are ready to vaccinate. In Brazil, President Bolsonaro has been sledging vaccines, only 22 per cent of Brazilians said they would be unwilling to take any COVID-19 vaccine, up from 9 per cent in August. In America, research conducted by the Suffolk University Poll tells that 46% of Americans are willing to take vaccines as soon as they can.
Moreover, if there are risks or fears regarding vaccination, a connected world will offer benefits to fight against the pandemic. The high support for vacancies produced by non-western nations will ensure that areas with high and poor populations will also have access to vaccines. With the Biden administration likely to sign up with COVAX to supply vaccines beyond the borders the situation in struggling nations seems to improve.
- Kabir Kalia