Vaccine nationalism poses the greatest threat to Covid recovery

By - World Healthcare Journal

Vaccine nationalism poses the greatest threat to Covid recovery

Vaccine rollouts across western nations are proving to be highly successful. The UK’s extensive program has had a shielding effect from criticism for failings in the initial stages of the pandemic. But even in countries with advanced rollouts, a key threat to pandemic recovery is a mutant variant that disrupts the efficacy of the current global vaccine portfolio.   

Where in the UK we may be feeling confident about returning to some degree of normality, the unequal distribution of vaccines globally has created a false sense of security. The procurement of vaccines by high-resource countries has fed a widespread assumption that each country will be solely responsible for its own population. The WHO estimates that as of May 5 2021, 80 per cent of the 1.1 billion doses of vaccines that had been administered went to high and upper middle income countries, with just 0.3 per cent administered in low income countries. Yet, these high resource countries comprise just 16 per cent of the global population. With a virus that does not respect national borders at large, it is unsustainable to allow it to circulate amongst the vast majority of the world population where it can ultimately undermine the entirety of the global vaccination effort.  Thus, we have not only a moral but critical obligation to ensure vaccine nationalism is undermined in aim of protecting our security, health, and economy in the long term. 

At the time of writing our current global vaccination rates of roughly 6.7 million doses per day translate to achieving worldwide immunity (70 to 85 per cent of the population having received a two-dose vaccine) in approximately 4.6 years, in which time, a mutant variant could surface amongst an unvaccinated cohort of the developing world. The current situation in India is a harrowing reminder of this possibility and it is a warning to policy makers that a more rigorous global framework is necessary to address this problem.  

Of course, G7 nations have already committed support for global vaccine procurement through the COVAX program, which supplies vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, but this funding  remains inadequate. Currently, COVAX plans to vaccinate at least 20 per cent of the population of participating countries by the end of 2021. Though this would be a substantial achievement, it falls far short from the goal of securing global herd immunity in a timely fashion or stop the spread of new variants that have the potential to render current vaccines ineffective. Governments must prepare for this inevitability by utilising new technologies, such as mRNA vaccines, that can be rapidly developed to fight variants of Covid-19, but the difficulty is ensuring the right infrastructure and production capacity is in place and the international community must collaborate to ensure this becomes a reality.  

Another possible solution to redistributing vaccines to the developing world, recenty aired by the Biden administration, has been to waive vaccine patents. The proposal to waive patents has been hailed as a much-needed boost for global equity, but it is by no means a done deal. The European Union has said it was "ready to discuss" the proposal but Germany along with many parts of the Pharma sector are against the proposal. Although the patent waiver undoubtedly has laudable aims, it is unclear if handing countries’ governments an instruction guide (without the necessary production capacity, workforce, or ingredients) necessarily improves the rate at which lower income countries achieve herd immunity through vaccination in the short term. The patent issue requires policymakers to balance the importance of incentivising the private sector to invest in R&D for the future with the need for a rapid vaccine rollout around the world. 

Ultimately, a new international framework must utilise mRNA technology by investing in a large-scale production capacity, both in the developed and developing world to ensure we can quickly combat emerging variants of Covid-19, other zoonotic diseases, and even potential bio-warfare threats on the horizon. The eyes of the international community will be on Cornwall next month where G7 leaders address this fundamental issue to ensure nobody is left behind in the fight against Covid-19.  

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