COVID-19: Vaccine nationalism, high prices and supply chain issues slowing worldwide coronavirus inoculation, say scientists

·3-min read

Vaccine nationalism, high prices and supply chain issues are standing in the way of the world getting inoculated, according to scientists writing about the coronavirus pandemic in The Lancet.

More than two thirds of the world's doses have been secured by governments representing just one sixth of the world's population.

In an article penned by seven experts in fields including vaccines, health policy and infectious diseases, they outline the steps needed to be taken to ensure as many people as possible get jabs against COVID-19.

Lead author Dr Olivier Wouters, from the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: "Several manufacturers have successfully developed COVID-19 vaccines in under 12 months, an extraordinary achievement.

"But the stark reality is that the world now needs more doses of COVID-19 vaccines than any other vaccine in history in order to immunise enough people to achieve global vaccine immunity.

"Unless vaccines are distributed more equitably, it could be years before the coronavirus is brought under control at a global level.

"The questions now are when these vaccines will become available, and at what price."

There is also concern about the pricing of vaccines.

Jabs like the Oxford/AstraZeneca one have been offered for as little as $5 (£3.60) for a course, while at the top end some China-developed vaccines are being offered for $62 (£44.80) per course.

According to the article, more than $10bn (£7.2m) of public and non-profit money has been spent on developing the immunisations.

The total is thought to be much higher, however, as not all funding details are publicly available.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab is thought to have received $1.7bn (£1.2bn) from the UK and US governments, and the donation funded Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

But COVAX - the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access body - says that another $6.8bn (£4.9bn) is needed to hit its target of 2 billion doses by the end of the year.

Of this, 1 billion are destined for 92 lower and middle income countries.

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The article's co-author Professor Mark Jit, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, warned that richer countries overordering is putting others at risk.

He said: "Securing large quantities of vaccines in this way amounts to countries placing widespread vaccination of their own populations ahead of the vaccination of healthcare workers and high-risk populations in poorer countries.

"Based on known deals, governments in high-income countries representing 16% of the global population have secured at least 70% of doses available in 2021 from five leading vaccine candidates."

Other areas to look at include providing single dose vaccines that only need to be stored at normal fridge temperatures, as this would allow countries with less robust infrastructure to inoculate their populations more rapidly.

A greater number of vaccines being approved for use may also help.

Dr Wouters added: "Vaccines developed by Chinese, Indian, and Russian manufacturers may also offer a lifeline for the lowest-income nations if they show good results in phase 3 trials, allowing them to procure abundant doses of vaccines that have not yet been authorised in most high-income countries.

"Once authorised by WHO (World Health Organisation), these vaccines could also potentially contribute to the COVAX portfolio."