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Coronavirus vaccine: Some countries may have to wait till 2024 to get their share – where does India stand?

With richer nations snapping up doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines even before they are produced in large numbers, poorer nations would have to wait longer to inoculate a significant section of their population.
Nov 19, 2020 / 02:21 PM IST
Representative image
Representative image

With a number of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, including those being developed by Pfizer and Moderna, showing promising results in clinical trials, a global race is now truly underway to secure adequate doses for the masses.

However, available data of advance purchase agreements for leading vaccine candidates shows only a handful of high- and middle-income countries are securing a disproportionate quantity of doses.

An analysis by researchers at Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center shows these high- and middle-income countries have already purchased 3.8 billion doses of potential vaccines. Plus, they have options for 5 billion more doses.

To complete these orders, manufacturers would remain tied up until at least the end of 2021, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

With richer nations snapping up doses even before they are produced in large numbers, poorer nations would have to wait longer to vaccinate a significant section of their population.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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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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COVID-19 Vaccine Watch: What you need to know about manufacturing and pricing

‘Vaccinationalism’

Data shows that Canada and the United Kingdom – both being members of the COVAX initiative (co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation) – have already advance-purchased enough doses to inoculate their entire populations.

Similarly, the European Union (EU) has secured rights to 400 million doses for its members. The group is negotiating more deals – raising that number to nearly two billion.

The United States, which is not part of the COVAX programme, has already agreed to purchase enough doses to cover its population multiple times. At this rate, it could snap up over 2 billion doses, Global Health Innovation Center’s research shows (as of November 11).

It is to be noted that none of these vaccine candidates has received regulatory approval so far. But several countries continue to hedge their bets by purchasing rights to competing candidates. For example, the UK has made Advance Market Commitments (AMCs) with five vaccine candidates.

COVID-19 vaccine advance market commitments by country (as of November 11, 2020) COVID-19 vaccine advance market commitments by country (as of November 11, 2020)

Duke University’s analysis also shows that among middle-income countries, Brazil and India have secured rights to enough doses to cover just around half of their populations – even as they continue to negotiate for more. Both India and Brazil have large vaccine manufacturing infrastructure.

Some countries such as Peru are using their status as a clinical trials site to secure commitments for those vaccines, even though the country is part of the COVAX initiative – which aims for “global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines”. Participants of the COVAX programme are to get doses for at least 20 percent of their populations “as soon as they are available”. But to meet that goal, COVAX would require at least 1.14 billion doses of a single-dose vaccine and 2.28 doses for a two-dose regimen.

Countries striking vaccine deals are also undermining the COVAX initiative. Researchers have pointed out that the disproportionate AMCs would lead to most people in low-income countries having to wait until 2024 for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Seeking exemption from patent protections

On November 17, India called upon China, Russia and Brazil to support the proposal it placed before the World Trade Organization (WTO) along with South Africa seeking exemption for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines from patent protections. Both had on October 2 submitted a communication to the WTO seeking a waiver from intellectual property obligations under the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement “until widespread vaccination is in place globally".

India and South Africa have placed a proposal before the world trade body as western nations have moved to clinch mega vaccine deals with pharmaceutical companies that may block production timelines.

The two countries are expected to argue during the WTO TRIPS Council’s session on November 20 that if the poorer nations do not get quick and significant access to vaccines, the pandemic could continue to wreak havoc in some parts of the world even as the situation normalises in other regions.

The proposal has also found backing of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who said ending a pandemic starts with collaboration.

Click here for Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the novel coronavirus pandemic
Moneycontrol News
first published: Nov 19, 2020 02:21 pm

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