Last week, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their Covid-19 vaccine proves to be %90 efficient in clinical tests, which immediately boosted the confidence against the global fight against Covid-19. After the announcement, even the aviation industry gained some hope for the coming months as the bookings jumped in the following days. Further, shares of Air France-KLM jumped %27 after the announcement of Pfizer.
More good news followed with the beginning of this week when biotech company Moderna announced yet even a higher efficiency rate for its Covid-19 vaccine, at %94,5. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than three dozens of vaccines currently being developed against the novel coronavirus. Vaccines of Pfizer and Moderna are currently at phase 3 of the clinical test, the last step before the official confirmation. According to Pfizer, the vaccine has been tested on 43.500 people so far, and Moderna’ on 30.000.
After a hellish 2020, where more than a million people died and tens of millions forced to live under strict rules to prevent more deaths, 2021 surely looks more promising. But there comes a crucial question: Who will get his hands on the Covid-19 vaccines?
Billions of Doses for Developed Countries
Months before the pivotal announcement of Pfizer, many developed countries and the European Union (EU) acted fast to be the first to get their hands on the Covid-19 vaccines. European Commission continues negotiations with several biotech and pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca of Britain and Sanofi of France. After the critical developments of the last week, now most of the eyes turned towards Pfizer.
Pfizer and BioNTech are planning to produce 1,3 billion doses of their vaccine until the end of 2021. The treatment costs 40 dollars and requires two injections per person. Many rich countries have already requested millions of doses of the vaccine, even though it has not been officially accepted as a treatment. It is likely that sooner or later some vaccines will be pushed into mass production under “the urgent need of treatment” against coronavirus. So, rich countries will have acquired billions of these vaccines. What will the poor countries do?
Trudie Lang, director of the Global Health Network at Oxford University thinks that an ethical dilemma may arise in the coming months. Because “all the world needs the two doses of treatment produced by Pfizer.”
WHO has realized the demand problem months ago and came up with the establishment of Covax, an initiative which will be responsible for assuring fair distribution among countries. Covax is made up of governments, scientific organizations, private companies and public organizations. Pfizer is not among Covax but already expressed its intention to supply the required amounts the world needs.
Is Fair Distribution Possible?
According to Rachel Silverman, who is in charge od Center for Global Development, most of the doses of the Covid-19 vaccines won’t end up in the hands of poor countries. As she told AFP, more than 1,1 billion doses of the promising vaccines have already been bought by rich countries. She thinks that through certain members of Covax, including Great Britain and Japan, some of the vaccine supplies may be sent to poorer countries, regarding the agreements made by these countries.
On the other hand, the United States, which is not a member of Covax, secured more than 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines. It is not known if the policy of using the vaccines will change with the Biden government.
“We must prevent rich countries from getting all the vaccines”, says Benjamin Schreiber, who is coordinating the funds of United Nations (UN) for children in Unicef. He thinks that the distribution must be set according to the epidemiological status of countries if ethics will stand during this process.
How Many Will Die If Ethics Won’t Rule?
Northeastern University in the US has made simulations regarding a fair or unfair distribution. In their research, two scenarios were put forward. First, 50 rich countries grab 2 billion doses of the vaccines. In the second, the vaccines are distributed to the countries regarding their population, not their richness.
In the first scenario, the global death rate is decreased by only %33. In second, however, it is possible to lower the death rate by %61.
Comes The Issue of Trust
The challenge of distribution is not the only problem laying between the life-saving vaccine (hopefully) and the poor countries. One other major issue will be logistics.
Developed with the state of art technology, Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is highly sensitive: It needs to be stored in -70 Celcius. Unfortunately, most of the refrigerators in hospitals globally can store up to -20 degrees.
Rachel Silverman puts down another important note: Pfizer and certain governments are preparing a protocol regarding the vaccine for months. But it doesn’t include low or middle-income countries…
“It is hard but not impossible,” she says when talking about distributing the vaccine to the globe. But, important investments must take place to secure the successful logistics of the vaccines.
Eventually, several Covid-19 vaccines may appear in the pharmaceuticals industry in the coming months. Yet again, another issue will arise according to WHO: The trust of the people towards the vaccine.
Belgium government, for instance, declared that it will distribute the vaccine for free and it won’t be mandatory. Nevertheless, Belgium hopes to vaccinate more than 8 million of its citizens (%70 of the total population).
Not surprisingly, social media will be showered with countless conspiracy theories and misinformed faked news. It will be critical to distribute accurate information locally and internationally, the WHO says. So, it won’t only be a matter of distributing vaccines but also the facts come with it.