Combatting Coronavirus: The Case for Improved Global Vaccination Systems and Cooperation
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
By Momin Ahmed, Allen D. Nease High School, Ponte Vedra, FL
1979, the year polio was eradicated from the United States. But more than 40 years later, this disease is still infecting children in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. While we are close to globally eradicating the disease (95 total cases reported in 2019), the fact that it has taken more than 4 decades to get to this point is not only disheartening but embarrassing (Martin, 2019). In addition, polio is one of several diseases that have been eradicated in the US, but not worldwide. Rubella, measles, and diphtheria are just a few examples of diseases that still affect children worldwide (Vanderslott et al., 2013). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 20 million children worldwide remain under/un vaccinated and at risk for fatal diseases (WHO, 2020). Although this number is declining yearly, it is still a figure that cannot be ignored and serves as an indication for the need of improved global vaccination systems.
So, why is any of this relevant now? Well, as many of you are probably aware, we are amid a global pandemic. Over the course of 8 months, a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has infected at least 18.5 million people and killed more than 700,000 people worldwide (Johns Hopkins University, 2020).
The cure? Developing a vaccine. However, what will happen when that vaccine is completed? How will it be distributed? These are questions that the WHO, have already attempted to address in recent press conferences. In a June briefing, the WHO indicated that healthcare workers, adults over the age of 65, and adults with detrimental pre-existing conditions should be the first recipients of the vaccine (WHO, 2020). These are logical guidelines, given healthy medical personnel can treat the sick and people with detrimental pre-existing conditions are at greatest risk.
The concern, however, arises with determining which countries will be prioritized to receive the vaccine. While it makes sense for countries that have been hit the hardest by the virus to receive more of the vaccine first, it doesn’t consider how many inhabitants of the country are in mortal peril. After all, these are the people who truly need the vaccine.
Before we start talking about distributing vaccines, however, we must first discuss affording them. According to a recent article, the COVID-19 virus vaccine could initially cost around $300 - $500 (Rosenthal, 2020). This large price tag will be unaffordable for most countries. Consequently, poorer countries will need a financing system to afford a vaccine. Luckily organizations, such as Gavi (the vaccine alliance), have become adept at raising billions of dollars through different financing methods, including bonds, loans, and other investments (Gavi, 2020). Their experiences with raising money for global immunizations can be of great benefit should we need to do the same to help poorer countries afford the COVID-19 vaccine.
So, what is the plan for widespread distribution of such a direly needed and limited commodity? “During a pandemic, vaccines and antivirals can’t simply be sold to the highest bidder. They should be available and affordable for people who are at the heart of the outbreak and in greatest need. Not only is such distribution the right thing to do, it’s also the right strategy for short-circuiting transmission and preventing future pandemics”- Bill Gates (Weintraub et al., 2020).
Lately, the US has been on the wrong end of this trend by making headlines for purchasing the world stock of COVID-19 drug remdesivir and committing to buy 100 million doses of an unfinished vaccine (Boseley, 2020; Kliff, 2020). These actions are concerning for the rest of the world, as vaccines will be limited in number, and if the US buys all the vaccines, it will be difficult to end a global pandemic. Especially with how infectious COVID-19 is, ending it in one country won’t alleviate the issue in other parts of the world. To defeat this virus, we must work together and in unison.
The WHO and Gavi have already proposed a program called COVAX to solve many of these problems. COVAX is a program that guarantees all countries enough vaccines for 20% of their population (Gavi, 2020). It aims to provide global access to multifarious COVID-19 vaccines, just in case one fails, and restore economies (Gavi, 2020). It is a comprehensive plan, but it is still unclear how many countries will sign onto it, as many have already inked deals for vaccines with pharmaceutical companies (Kupferschmidt, 2020). Furthermore, this plan will require global participation, especially from the US who wants to withdraw from the WHO (Wolfson, 2020). Without international cooperation, it remains unclear how effectively we will be able to combat this pandemic. Let’s just hope it will not take nearly as long as polio.
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