A nurse drawing a dose of a vaccine with a syringe.
Affluent countries are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to reserve doses of COVID-19 vaccines for their citizens.
This means poorer countries may be left waiting months extra to get enough doses to inoculate their citizens.
The US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands have all reserved doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford.
Efforts are underway to ensure that vaccine makers produce enough to cover as many people as possible once any given vaccine is found to be both safe and effective.
The effort is led by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Red Cross, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
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Rich nations are placing large advance orders for COVID-19 vaccines, which could mean poor countries will be left to wait once a vaccine is found safe and effective in humans.
A handful of vaccine candidates have shown promising results during clinical trials, the most in-demand of which is being developed by the University of Oxford, which has partnered with the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.
Several countries have rushed to secure doses to take care of their own citizens.
The first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s vaccine trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore receiving an injection on May 4.
University of Maryland School of Medicine/AP Photo
Vaccine makers expect that 10 billion doses are needed to cover a global inoculation drive, Dr. Frank Heinricht, the CEO of the glass-vial maker Schott, told Business Insider. Schott is working with pharma giants, like AstraZeneca, to bottle a vaccine.
Rights groups and campaigners at the UN and the International Red Cross have warned that such forward planning by these countries could leave poorer countries behind.
“We can’t just rely on goodwill to ensure access,” Arzoo Ahmed, of Britain’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics, told the Associated Press.
“With HIV/AIDS, it took 10 years for the drugs to reach people in lower-income countries. If that happens with COVID-19, that would be very worrying.”
The AstraZeneca logo on a building in South San Francisco, California.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at the World Health Organization, also told the AP: “We don’t want to be in a situation where there are doses of a vaccine but they’re just available to some countries.”
“We need to have a consensus on that so we can agree to share the vaccine in a way that protects the most vulnerable.”
Multiple initiatives have been set up to ensure that poorer countries will have access to the vaccine.
French President Emmanuel Macron visiting a lab at a vaccine unit at the Sanofi Pasteur plant in Marcy-l’Etoile, France, on Tuesday.
On June 4, AstraZeneca said it had signed agreements worth $750 million with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to secure 300 million doses.
The EU is also keen to ensure poorer countries aren’t left behind.
“When it comes to fighting a global pandemic, there is no place for ‘me first,'” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on Wednesday.
AstraZeneca also signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India, which will see 400 million doses reserved for low- and middle-income countries.
Johnson & Johnson also said it would not make a profit on sales of its vaccine to poorer nations. AstraZeneca have also said it would make no profit from its product.
China, which is also working to develop a vaccine, has pledged to give any successful vaccine to African countries first. President Xi Jinping last month said any vaccine research would be “made a global public good.”
US President Donald Trump.
The question of who gets the vaccine, when they get it, and how much they get has become an ethical quandary.
“There’s this idea that the vaccine is a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Arthur Caplan, the director of New York University’s Division of Medical Ethics, told Business Insider last month.
“But the reality is that we’ll see the biggest ethical challenge the world has ever seen.”
And even though the US has sought to reserve enough doses for every American, there is still expected to be a hierarchy within the country.
President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday said a system would be introduced to see who gets access to the first vaccine doses. It also said the vaccine would be free for Americans in vulnerable groups who can’t afford it.
In March, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that the Trump administration had offered a large sum to secure exclusive rights to a COVID-19 vaccine from the German company CureVac. The US denied the claim.
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