The healthcare experts, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), have been saying that unless the majority of the global population (almost 70 per cent) is getting the Covid-19 vaccines, the pandemic won't end. But the problem is while wealthy countries have sitting on vaccine stockpiles, many poorer countries are still scrambling to get immunisations.
It is concerning because some countries either have no jabs at all or have extremely low vaccination rates as they do not have enough doses to continue programmes. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of vaccine doses are due to expire in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
In June, WHO senior adviser Dr Bruce Aylward said the Covax programme—a global vaccine sharing scheme—had delivered 90 million doses to 131 countries, but it was insufficient to safeguard populations from a virus that was still spreading around the globe.
Covax announced a goal of distributing two billion doses around the world by the end of 2021. The majority of them will be sent to impoverished countries, where Covax wants to protect at least 20 per cent of the population with vaccines. But manufacturing delays, stockpiling jabs by rich countries and supply interruptions have impeded the distribution of these vaccines, resulting in shortages in countries that rely only on Covax. Many of the African countries also reported the shortage of the Covid-19 jabs.
What Rich Countries Are Doing
The public health officials in the United States said recently that millions of vaccine doses are set to expire this summer. As per the official, state health authorities have urged the federal government to donate the surplus vaccines to countries with limited or no access to the immunisations. But despite their pleadings, federal officials have turned down the request, claiming that the logistical and legal concerns involved would be too complex to resolve.
"It's not like, if Connecticut doesn't need theirs, it can go to Alabama. There just isn't the demand," said Marcus Plesica, the chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
As reported, a considerable number of Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA Covid-19 doses are due to expire in August and based on current vaccination rates, they are unlikely to be utilised before being wasted. Almost a million vaccine doses in North Carolina are expected to expire this summer, with hundreds of thousands more reaching the end of their shelf life in the fall. In August, 25,768 doses will expire in Delaware, and another 352,533 doses will expire in Colorado before the end of the summer.
The BMJ stated that by the end of March, the United States had already discarded over 180,000 vaccine doses, while states like Iowa and Arkansas have issued warnings that thousands of more doses are about to expire.
But the United States is not the only country that is letting the vaccines to be expired and dumped instead of sending them to those nations which need them most. Vaccine administrators in the United Kingdom are now reporting that they, too, are having to discard doses due to strict dosing interval rules and fewer people coming forward for their first dose, which has resulted in supply far exceeding demand. However, it is a fact that in both countries, the vaccination rate is still higher than many nations whose population is currently in a vulnerable state.
According to the WHO, 23 African nations have utilised less than half of the vaccine doses they have received so far, and 1.25 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are slated to expire at the end of August in 18 countries. Meanwhile, Malawi and South Sudan have already disposed approximately of 20,000 and 59,000 vaccine doses, respectively.
A group of doctors in the Netherlands attempted to ship vaccination doses to other nations but were thwarted by a rule that prohibits any drug supplied to doctors for their patients from being transferred.
Additionally, vaccine apprehension and logistical challenges have hindered deployment, particularly in countries like Bulgaria and Romania, where vaccine doses have been sold to foreign nations despite low coverage at home. In the United Kingdom, health officials have urged young adults to get their immunisations, as interest among this generation appears to be waning.
Pippa Nightingale, the chief nursing officer at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Our vaccination centres are only really operating to about 30 per cent of their capacity because that's the people that are turning up. We've got staff there, we've got vaccines there, but we are really struggling. That's the picture across London; it's also a picture across the country".
However, countries that tried to ship vaccines that were about to expire to other nations struggled to identify recipients who could take the stock and distribute it before the expiration date.
In July this year, Israel attempted to deliver one million vaccination doses to nations such as Palestine and the United Kingdom as part of negotiations that would see the countries return the same amount of doses later in 2021. Both arrangements fell through, but Israel and South Korea eventually agreed to swap 700,000 doses.
WHO's director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said on 21 July that to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of every country's population by September this year, 40 per cent by the end of 2021, and 70 per cent by the middle of 2022, a total of 11 billion doses were required. According to him, while vaccine sharing is beneficial, it is also only a temporary solution.
"We need to dramatically scale up the number of vaccines being produced. This can be done by removing the barriers to scaling up manufacturing, including through technology transfer, freeing up supply chains, and IP [intellectual property] waivers," added Ghebreyesus.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.