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Shutting down the COVID-19 pandemic requires a global, selfless effort.
In the waning days of 2020, front-line healthcare workers in the United States lined up to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine injections, a hopeful sign that this could be the beginning to the end of the pandemic. Producing sufficient doses to inoculate enough people around the world to achieve herd immunity, however, will require more than robust manufacturing; a global effort and agreement for the equitable distribution of vaccines is crucial.
Wealthy nations have taken the lead in developing vaccines. Operation Warp Speed (OWS), the US government’s program to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-10 vaccines and treatments, issued more than $12.4 billion to six vaccine makers to secure vaccine doses for the nearly 330 million people in the country.
The strategy of having multiple shots on goal—investing in multiple vaccines in case one or more fail during development—has triggered supply-and-demand questions. Will nations have enough doses to vaccinate their populations? Did your government make purchase agreements for the vaccines with the best potential for success? And are wealthy nations “clearing the shelves” of the leading vaccine candidates, reserving more doses than they need?
A New York Times analysis found that wealthy nations have reserved more than half of the vaccines to be produced by the end of 2021, more than is needed to vaccinate their populace, in some cases, several times over (1).
An analysis of contracts between vaccine manufacturers and governments showed the US has secured commitments for 455 million doses of vaccines (2). More than half of the committed doses, however, are from manufacturers that—as of mid-December 2020—had not received, or even applied for, Emergency Use Authorization for their vaccines.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a Bloomberg report that OWS had contracts with six companies with options for up to 3 billion vaccine doses. “We are confident that we will meet our goal to have enough vaccine doses for any American who wants one in the second quarter of 2021,” HHS was quoted in the report.
The rapid global spread of the virus demonstrates the need for vaccine distribution worldwide. Producing sufficient vaccines for the less-developed nations is a concern for global health authorities.
“In developing countries, there are certain companies like the Serum Institute of India, for example, that manufacture significant high volumes of these vaccines that go to low- to middle-income countries and are highly subsidized through organizations like Gavi and the Gates Foundation,” Unmesh Lal, industry principal—transformational health, Frost & Sullivan, told BioPharm International.
To get more vaccines to low- to middle-income countries, Lal recommends identifying manufacturing facilities in small-population and developing countries with strong fill/finish and storage capacities to progressively export to other countries. A second strategy, he says, is to organize the production steps separately and regionally.
Manufacturing logistics aside, Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation offers perhaps the most appropriate insight: “I’ve met with nationalist leaders who are skeptical. I’ve met with humanitarian leaders who are generous. But COVID-19 has made that distinction irrelevant. In this pandemic, there’s no difference between helping yourself and helping others. The self-interested thing—and the selfless thing—are one and the same” (3).
1. M. Twohey, K. Collins, and K. Thomas, “With First Dibs on Vaccines, Rich Countries Have ‘Cleared the Shelves’,” nytimes.com, Dec. 15, 2020.
2. D. Armstrong and T. Randall, “US Ranks Behind EU, Australia, UK in Vaccine Buys but Says It Will Meet Goal,” Bloomberg.com, Dec. 9, 2020.
3. M. Gates, Speech at the Paris Peace Forum, www.gatesfoundation.org, Nov. 12, 2020.
Rita Peters is editorial director of BioPharm International.
Volume 34, No. 1
When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, “Ensuring Vaccine Supply Meets Need," BioPharm International, 34 (1) 2021.