Covid vaccine race

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So, it is apparently an unholy competition. Health experts have warned that political posturing could harm efforts to boost public confidence in covid-19 vaccines at this critical time. The challenge now is to get the political will together to protect all those at risk and bring an end to the global pandemic.

 

It is all but clear that a fierce competition is currently going on over the COVID-19 vaccines. Some have dubbed it — sarcastically though — covid nationalism in that the thrust is on who gets the authorisation first to roll out the vaccine. For months, progress at various stages of trials in USA, UK, China and Russia (to name the key players) has been reported, though with a certain degree of reservation as regards full efficacy of the vaccines. And now with some of them claiming to have almost reached the final lap, it has turned out to be a matter of sheer competition at the expense of the suffering global community.

The UK is the first country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID -19 vaccine for widespread use, and the first person to be vaccinated was a ninety-eight-year woman on December 8. Reports say the country’s monarch is going to receive it soon. This, though highly acclaimed by the Britons as a splendid feat, has sparked criticism mostly from some of Britain’s former allies in the EU league. European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer has been quoted in news reports as saying that finding the right vaccine is a matter of life and health of people and not a football competition. The EU’s own regulators issued caution over the UK’s move to approve the vaccine – proven to have a 95 per cent efficacy rate in trials – saying a longer evaluation process was necessary to be absolutely safe. In the wake of these events, calls for caution against ‘vaccine nationalism’ have grown. Chances are high that other countries who have made much headway in this regard might soon turn things into a contest of the worst kind global healthcare sector has ever experienced. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its procedure for assessing the vaccine, which will conclude on December 29, was based on more evidence and required further checks than its UK counterpart. There are plenty of arguments and counter-arguments in favour and against the vaccines produced by a dozen high profile pharmaceutical companies.

So, it is apparently an unholy competition. Health experts have warned that political posturing could harm efforts to boost public confidence in covid-19 vaccines at this critical time. The challenge now is to get the political will together to protect all those at risk and bring an end to the global pandemic.

Amid the ongoing contest, the victims are obviously the poor countries. The world’s poorest and most vulnerable population must not be ‘trampled in the stampede’ in the race, said the Head of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Besides political posturing, another major concern for the WHO is that wealthier countries might buy up available stocks of successful vaccines, leaving poorer nations empty-handed. While funds for procuring the vaccines is an issue, the reported rush by wealthy countries in building huge stocks is a matter of great concern for most of these countries. Equally importantly, here, are the issues of patent rights and licensing that may it unaffordable for many pharma companies in the developing countries to produce the vaccine.

These issues need to be taken into account, and a commonly acceptable solution should be developed soon enough to ensure that the poor and less advanced countries are not ‘stampeded’. WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and partners are working together to help prepare countries to be ready to facilitate the introduction of the COVID -19 vaccine. Adaptable guidance, tools, training, and advocacy materials are being developed to support countries in preparing for COVID-19 vaccination. Still, unless the countries who have almost made it to the last lap and some others close enough to see it as a moral obligation to help the rest of the world, international agencies can do little to rise to the occasion. The TRIPS (Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights) agreement of the WTO in respect of healthcare services can play a part, provided vaccine producing countries and their companies do not play foul disregarding the multilateral pact.

It is in this situation that the global community must come to terms with the reality that there is an opportunity to serve humanity and not quash it by egocentric and insensitive moves.

 

Cover image source: Internet

 

Wasi Ahmed, a novelist, short story writer, and journalist, lives in Dhaka.

 

 

 

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