COVID vaccine: Rich countries “clear the shelves”

As a growing number of coronavirus vaccines advance through clinical trials, wealthy countries are fueling an extraordinary gap in access around the world, laying claim to more than half the doses that could come on the market by the end of next year.

While many poor nations may be able to vaccinate at most 20% of their populations in 2021, some of the world’s richest countries have reserved enough doses to immunize their own multiple times over.

With no guarantee that any particular vaccine would come through, these countries hedged their bets on a number of candidates. But if all the doses they have claimed are delivered, the European Union could inoculate its residents twice, Britain and the United States could do so four times over, and Canada six times over, according to a New York Times analysis of data on vaccine contracts collected by Duke University, UNICEF and Airfinity, a science analytics company.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-6-1/html/r-sf-flx.html

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“The high-income countries have gotten to the front of the line and cleared the shelves,” said Andrea Taylor, a Duke researcher who is studying the contracts.

The United States has provided billions of dollars to back the research, development and manufacturing of five of the most promising vaccines against COVID-19, pushing them forward at a speed and scale that would otherwise have been impossible. But the support came with a condition: that Americans would get priority access to doses made in their country.

Other wealthy nations joined the United States in placing large preorders, often with options to expand the deals and acquire even more — undermining many countries’ ability to make timely purchases.

The United States has secured 100 million doses from Pfizer, with the option of buying 500 million more, and 200 million from Moderna, with an additional 300 million on offer. It has also preordered 810 million doses from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Sanofi combined; expansion deals could push that number to 1.5 billion.

Britain has claimed 357 million doses from all of those companies, along with a small company, Valneva, with options to buy 152 million more.

The European Union has secured 1.3 billion from most of the same companies, as well as the German company CureVac; it can have another 660 million doses if it chooses.

Nearly all of these vaccines have been developed as two-dose treatments. How quickly the wealthy countries will achieve full coverage is uncertain, in large part because the candidates are in varied stages of progress.

Pfizer’s vaccine, developed with BioNTech, is now authorized in Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Moderna’s is expected soon to follow. AstraZeneca, working with the University of Oxford, is likely to seek approval in Britain, India and several other countries in the coming weeks, armed with data from outside the United States, where it has suffered setbacks with regulators.

Valneva has not yet entered clinical trials. Sanofi, working with GlaxoSmithKline, recently changed its approval timetable to the end of next year after clinical results showed a poor performance in older people.

But the outlook for most of the developing world is dire. Because of manufacturing limits, it could take until 2024 for many low-income countries to obtain enough vaccines to fully immunize their populations.

Local vaccine manufacturing may be critical for lower-income countries

Not all of the less wealthy nations will face severe shortages. Some have secured a substantial number of doses that could come on the market next year by leveraging their own drug-manufacturing strengths.

India is on track to produce more doses of coronavirus vaccines next year than any other country. The Serum Institute of India, which has contracts for large quantities of the AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines, has promised the Indian government half of its output.

“India gets priority because it’s my home country,” Adar Poonawalla, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview.

And billionaire Carlos Slim has helped fund a deal for 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Latin America, drawing on manufacturing capacities in Argentina and his native Mexico.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is well suited to poorer countries because it is inexpensive and easy to store. Far more doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have been promised than of any other candidate: 3.21 billion, over half of them committed to poor and middle-income countries. The company has partnered with 10 manufacturers around the world.

Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine is being tested as a single dose, making it another contender in the developing world, has pledged 500,000 shots to low-income countries, without specifying which nations would get them.

China, which has the third-biggest vaccine manufacturing capacity in the world, has indicated that it intends to make its vaccines available to developing countries. Last week, the United Arab Emirates issued the first government approval of Sinopharm, citing preliminary data showing that it was 86% effective.

To address vaccine inequity, the World Health Organization and two nonprofits supported by Bill Gates launched an effort to secure 1 billion doses for 92 poor countries. A billion more would go to dozens of middle- and high-income nations.

Similar to the U.S. government’s investment but on a much smaller scale, the effort, known as Covax, has backed the development and manufacturing of vaccine candidates, including those of AstraZeneca and Novavax. In return, those two companies have promised Covax hundreds of millions of doses.

But the initiative has struggled to raise enough money to meet its target; even if it did, 1 billion doses would be enough for less than 20% of each poor country’s population.

Source: Yahoo News



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