As some countries rush to buy Covid-19 vaccine in advance, will others be left out?

The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has infected 57.9 million people worldwide and 1.37 million have lost their lives as on Saturday, according to real-time statistics provider Worldometer. Many have pinned their hopes on vaccines as reports of two of them, including the candidates of Pfizer and Moderna, being highly effective and others clearing advanced stages of trials come in.

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Experts have highlighted several concerns that lie ahead as the world seeks to come up with a fair system for distribution of vaccines once they are out.

The rush to buy in advance

Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate BNT162b2 was recently found to be 95% effective without any major safety concerns and Moderna announced that preliminary phase three trial data showed its vaccine was 94.5% effective.

Even as none of these vaccines has been approved yet, countries are purchasing doses in advance. According to Duke University in North Carolina, 6.4 billion doses of potential vaccines have already been bought, and another 3.2 billion are either under negotiation or reserved as “optional expansions of existing deals”, the BBC reported.

When can countries expect a working vaccine?

Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, told BBC that whichever country can pay the most in early stages of production of the vaccine would get to the front of the line and the “vast majority” of vaccine doses that have been bought so far have been by high-income countries.

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While Serum Institute of India has said it will keep half of all doses it produces for domestic distribution, Indonesia is partnering with Chinese vaccine developers and Brazil is partnering with the trials run by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “equitable distribution is particularly important in the area of vaccines, which, if used correctly and equitably, could help to stop the acute phase of the pandemic and allow the rebuilding of our societies and economies.”

Pfizer has said it hopes to produce up to 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021 and Moderna too has also shown promising results. The Moderna vaccine also has fewer requirements around keeping it cold, which has been a concern for poorer countries, particularly in warmer areas.

WHO’s equitable vaccine distribution plan

A landmark global vaccine plan by WHO known as Covax seeks to ensure an equitable distribution of future coronavirus vaccines. “Once a vaccine(s) is shown to be safe and effective, and authorized for use, all countries receive doses in proportion to their population size, albeit initially in reduced quantities. This will enable every country to start by immunizing the highest priority populations,” WHO advises.

“In the second phase, vaccines would continue to be deployed to all countries so that additional populations can be covered according to national priorities,” the organisation adds.

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