As doses of the first COVID-19 vaccine begin to roll out in the US now, the estimate is that younger, healthy people may have to wait a few months before they get their shot. But around the world, many people will be waiting far longer. Researchers who looked at the deals that wealthy countries have struck with vaccine manufacturers found that nearly a quarter of the global population is likely to be waiting until 2022—and possibly longer—to have access to the vaccine.
That’s a problem for everyone, not only the countries that may be waiting longest. “If we do not curb the pandemic globally, then there is always the possibility that it will return to our shores, and trade and travel in the world will not return to the pre-COVID days, unless we do effectively treat and prevent the resurgence of this pandemic in all countries of the world, not just in high-income countries,” says Anthony So, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and one of the authors of the study, published today in The BMJ.
Some help will come from the Covax Facility, an international effort to buy vaccines for lower-income countries, but the effort still needs more funding. So far, it has raised around US$2 billion, enough to buy doses for around half a billion people, with doses going first to healthcare workers and populations that are most at risk. It aims to raise another US$5 billion next year.
The challenge will also depend on which vaccines are successful and how quickly each can be scaled up. (Some organisations, such as Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders, argue that pharmaceutical companies should also freely share their intellectual property in vaccines now to help manufacturing scale up more quickly. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can’t easily be distributed in remote areas because it requires extremely low-temperature storage, for example.
Other vaccines, still at an earlier stage of development, may be better suited for distribution in developing countries, but production will take time. “It also takes time to scale,” he says. “It takes time to get the financing required to build the facilities, and secure the supply chains. You need everything from glass vials to the transportation logistics to be worked out.”
However, it was reported that a WHO senior official said the agency have been in talks with Pfizer and Moderna to include their COVID-19 vaccines as part of an early global rollout at a cost for poor countries that is possibly lower than current market prices.
In addition, wealthier countries, which have booked most of the currently available stocks of COVID-19 vaccines, are also planning to donate some excess doses to poor countries, although is not clear whether that would be through COVAX.
Article originally published on fastcompany.com.