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WHO says close to Pfizer deal that would give poorer countries access

The COVAX scheme -- led by the WHO and GAVI vaccine alliance -- is due to start rolling out vaccines to poor and middle-income countries in February, with 2 of 3 billion doses expected to be delivered this year.

January 19, 2021 / 07:55 AM IST
Pfizer | Stock performance from Budget 2017 to Budget 2018:29%, Budget 2018-19: 31%, Budget 2019-20: 34%, and Budget 20-21: 26%. In the last four years, the stock has gained 188 percent to Rs 5148.90  as of January 11, 2021.

Pfizer | Stock performance from Budget 2017 to Budget 2018:29%, Budget 2018-19: 31%, Budget 2019-20: 34%, and Budget 20-21: 26%. In the last four years, the stock has gained 188 percent to Rs 5148.90  as of January 11, 2021.

The World Health Organization is in advanced negotiations with Pfizer to include the firm's COVID-19 shot in the body's vaccine-sharing scheme, which would speed vaccine deliveries to poorer countries, a senior WHO official said on Monday.

The COVAX scheme -- led by the WHO and GAVI vaccine alliance -- is due to start rolling out vaccines to poor and middle-income countries in February, with 2 of 3 billion doses expected to be delivered this year.

"We are in ... detailed discussions with Pfizer. We believe very soon we will have access to that product," WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward told the WHO's executive board meeting, adding that it would then look to add others.

COVAX aims to deliver 135 million doses of all shots it has deals for to 92 lower and middle income countries in the programme by the end of March, he said.

So far, over half of the 50 million inoculations given globally in 50 countries have been done in the United States and China, according to Aylward. None have yet been given in Africa, he said.

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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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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday blamed vaccine nationalism for the inequity, saying the world was on the brink of "catastrophic moral failure".

The WHO already has deals with several suppliers, including AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India.

Austria's Clemens Martin Auer, one of the 34 WHO board members, said at Monday's meeting COVAX had been slow in securing deals and called its failure to procure mRNA vaccines, such as that made by Pfizer and BioNTech, "a major mistake".

Aylward justified the WHO stance saying they were expensive and that its cold-chain requirements were difficult for many countries to manage.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about -70 degrees Celsius before being shipped to distribution centres in cool boxes filled with dry ice.

So far, 44 countries out of the 50 that have already begun vaccinations have used the shot, WHO data shows.

The WHO also hopes to procure Pfizer shots via donations, rather than some countries being "double-served", Aylward said.

"We would be very keen to try and translate a lot of the commitments and interest in dose-sharing into actual deals, particularly with countries that have large bilateral deals on key products," he said, without naming countries.
Reuters
first published: Jan 19, 2021 07:55 am

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