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COVID-19 vaccine: Short supply raises fear of booming black market

There are growing concerns that the rich and the influential may use their money and power to get vaccinated against COVID-19 out of turn.

January 14, 2021 / 10:31 AM IST
Representative image: Reuters

Representative image: Reuters

The high demand and short supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses across most parts of the world has triggered concerns of a booming black market for the jabs. Even in richer nations, which have snapped up a major chunk of the initial production of doses, the slow rollout has meant some people are trying to get vaccinated through the black market.

This has also raised fears that poorer nations would have to wait even longer due to the black market, coupled with the supply shortage caused by high- and middle-income countries continuing to secure a disproportionate quantity of doses.

Experts cited by NBC San Diego believe that the poor rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States has laid the groundwork for a scenario in which the rich and the influential may use their money and power to cut in line and get vaccinated before others.

In Miami, big hospital donors reportedly got the vaccine out of turn. Some business tycoons in New York also reportedly flew down their friends to Florida, Miami to get vaccinated that were earmarked for a retirement home.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo had earlier threatened to impose fines of up to $1 million and revoke licenses of doctors, nurses and others who do not follow vaccine distribution guidelines. In most countries, healthcare and frontline workers have been prioritised for inoculation.

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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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In November 2020, a Bloomberg report had documented how some in China were bending the rules to get vaccinated out of turn through illegal markets, even before data on efficacy was made public.

COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker: All you need to know about manufacturing and pricing

South Africa to store vaccine at secret location

As a result, the South African government has decided to store 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses at a secret location due to the risk of theft for sale at black market prices, news agency PTI reported earlier citing a media report. The country will be receiving vaccine consignments from India in next few weeks.

The doses are a highly-rated commodity once they are stolen and reach the black market, Department of Health spokesperson Popo Maja told the weekly City Press, adding that if this occurs, there is a risk that the prices of these illegally-obtained vaccines will be hiked significantly.

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There will be a central place where the consignment will be stored and from where we will distribute it to hospital and clinic pharmacies that can store it, Maja said.

“There’s a security issue too because countries which have already begun rolling out the vaccines have warned us that there is a huge theft of it, so we may not even disclose where it is being centrally stored,” Maja added.

India had reported more than 1.05 crore COVID-19 cases as of January 14, including 1.51 lakh deaths due to the outbreak. While over 1.05 crore patients had recovered, around 2.13 lakh cases remained ‘active’. Globally, more than 9.17 crore individuals have been infected by the virus and over 19.69 lakh people have died so far.

India is scheduled to begin its COVID-19 vaccination drive on January 16. A speedy rollout of vaccines is being seen as the best way to curb the spread of COVID-19 and restore normalcy in the pandemic-battered global economy. As many as 50 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have already vaccinated a large number of people from high-risk groups.

Click here for Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic
Moneycontrol News
first published: Jan 14, 2021 10:31 am

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