The Struggle for Effective and Equal COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution
By Violet Berlin, Jones College Prep, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to poorer nations around the world is critical. To ensure equal access, the COVAX facility assembled during the pandemic as a global undertaking to reach those with the greatest need. It is comprised of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization. Several manufacturers and 190 donor countries are also part of the platform. The end goal? Provide 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 for high-risk populations (WHO, 2020). Yet even with this amazing network, a recent report shows that 90% of the COVID-19 vaccine purchases have gone to higher income countries, which comprise just 14% of the world’s total population. Poorer countries – mostly in Africa, Asia and South America – will at this rate vaccinate at most 20% of the population. Internal documents leaked to Reuters state that COVAX is having financial and supply issues and is struggling to obtain contractual agreements. If this continues, billions of people in poorer countries may not receive a vaccine until 2024 (Guarascio, 2020).
Creating a vaccine that is both safe and effective takes time and often fails. As an attempt to hedge their bets, it appears that some countries, such as those in the European Union, Canada, and the United States, are hoarding vaccines by buying them from different companies (Smith, 2020). Recently, a few of these nations have voiced their willingness to make excess doses available to low-income countries, but it is not entirely clear whether they would go through COVAX.
Additional initiatives like the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA) are out there. The PVA comprises a group of organizations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, calling for the pharmaceutical companies to share their technology and intellectual property, which will ensure more effective and safer production of vaccines. They are part of a growing movement of economists, world leaders, activists, health experts, and COVID-19 survivors who want a People’s Vaccine that’s not privatized (BBC, 2020). They suggest that the vaccine be purchased at the true cost, which takes into account taxpayer public funding for research and development, and then distributed free of charge to the people no matter where they live.
Another interesting initiative is an agreement between AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which transfers the technology of their vaccine to the Serum Institute in India, who will then manufacture approximately 1 billion doses. AstraZeneca has also signed on to COVAX and has committed to sending their doses to low- and middle-income countries. Their vaccine features a huge advantage because it doesn’t require subzero storage facilities, a result of using a nonlethal viral vector. On the other hand, the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech use synthetic messenger RNA that contains information about the coronavirus signature spike proteins; the vaccines require ultra-cold chain transportation, eliminating it as a viable option for distribution to many low-resource locations. As a result, they are only sending out initial doses to richer countries (Haseltine, 2020).
In addition to what Europe and the United States developed, other nations have started manufacturing and marketing a COVID-19 vaccine to low- and middle-income countries. Russia produced one called Sputnik V, whose trials indicate a 90 percent effectiveness. Additionally, four vaccines in China are in late-stage clinical trials. Reports show more than a million people in China have already been vaccinated with one of these (Lancet, 2020). Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates also plan to use it.
Being born in a rich or poor country should not determine whether a person gets a COVID-19 vaccine. Everyone on the planet needs access. After all, quality healthcare is a basic human right.
BBC. (2020, December 9). Rich Countries Hoarding Covid Vaccines, Say People’s Vaccine Alliance. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55229894
Guarascio, Francesco. (2020, December 16). EXCLUSIVE –WHO Vaccine Scheme Risks Failure, Leaving Poor Countries No COVID Shots Until 2024. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-who-vaccines/exclusive-who-vaccine-scheme-risks-failure-leaving-poor-countries-no-covid-shots-until-2024-idINL8N2IV50J.
Haseltine, William. (2020, December 2). Why Most Countries Won’t Benefit from Moderna and Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccines. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhaseltine/2020/12/02/why-most-countries-wont-benefit-from-moderna-and-pfizers-covid-19-vaccines/?sh=3d35758c5170.
The Lancet. (2020, December 18). COVID19 Vaccines: The Pandemic Will Not End Overnight. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanmic/article/PIIS2666-5247(20)30226-3/fulltext.
Smith, Alexander. (2020, December 16). COVID Vaccines are Being Hoarded by Rich Countries – Poor Ones are Missing Out. NBC News.
World Health Organization. (2020, December 18). https://www.who.int/news/item/18-12-2020-covax-announces-additional-deals-to-access-promising-covid-19-vaccine-candidates-plans-global-rollout-starting-q1-2021.