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Rich countries have cornered 51% of future COVID-19 vaccine supply: Oxfam

Supply deals have already been agreed for 5.303 billion doses, of which 2.728 billion (51 percent) have been bought by developed countries including the UK, US, Australia, Hong Kong & Macau, Japan, Switzerland and Israel, as well as the European Union

September 17, 2020 / 09:43 PM IST

Over half of the future supply of COVID-19 vaccine candidates has already been cornered by a small group of wealthy nation, according to a report by Oxfam International.

The non-profit organisation warned that wealthy nations representing just 13 percent of the world's population have already cornered 51 percent of the promised doses of leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

A major concern around the eagerly awaited COVID-19 vaccine is the availability of doses and fair distribution across the world, a sentiment that has reportedly been echoed by Melinda Gates.

The report noted that the very pharma companies currently in the running to develop the vaccine do not have the capacity to make enough doses for all those who need it.

Citing data provided by analytics company Airfinity, Oxfam said that of the nine COVID-19 vaccines currently in the phase 3 clinical trial stage, supply deals have been made public for five, which are being developed by AstraZeneca, Gamaleya/Sputnik, Moderna, Pfizer and Sinovac.

COVID-19 Vaccine

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"Even in the extremely unlikely event that all five vaccines succeed, nearly two thirds (61 percent) of the world's population will not have a vaccine until at least 2022. It's far more likely some of these experiments will fail, leaving the number of people without access even higher," Oxfam said.

As per the report, Moderna's vaccine candidate that has emerged as a leading one, "has received $2.48 billion in committed taxpayer's money". But the company has sold the options for all of its supply to rich nations ― at prices ranging from $12-16 a dose in the US to around $35 per dose for other countries.

Additionally, several reports note that the company only has the capacity to produce enough for 475 million people or 6 percent of the world's population.

A calculation has pegged the combined production capacity of the five vaccine candidates at 5.94 billion doses, "enough for 2.97 billion people given that all five future vaccines will or are highly likely to require two doses," the report said.

"Supply deals have already been agreed for 5.303 billion doses, of which 2.728 billion (51 percent) have been bought by developed countries including the UK, US, Australia, Hong Kong & Macau, Japan, Switzerland and Israel, as well as the European Union. The remaining 2.575 billion doses have been bought by or promised to developing countries, including India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, among others," it added.

Another report has reiterated the need for fair distribution of vaccines to save lives. The Goalkeepers Report 2020 released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation earlier this week notes that if rich countries buy up the first 2 billion doses of vaccine instead of making sure they are distributed in proportion to the global population, then almost twice as many people could die from COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said countries should join the COVAX vaccine facility by September 18, a deadline to help ensure that immunisations are fairly and efficiently distributed. While around 92 lower-income nations have sought assistance under the vaccine facility, some 80 higher-income nations that have expressed interest are required to confirm their interest to join.

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