Tag: COVID-19 Vaccine

Why Caucasians Bank On the WHO-Covax Vaccine Programme
Geopolitics

Why Caucasians Bank On the WHO-Covax Vaccine Programme

WHO-Covax Vaccine Programme: If you are a part of the Caucasia region, chances are you will need a strong friendship with the more powerful nations around you, to get hold of the best efficacy Covid-19 vaccine

The South Caucasian nations like Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, have realized that they have to remain in good terms with Russia, Turkey and the rest of the West. All of them are aware that they will probably meet the first anniversary of the novel virus, when it hit their counties. But they might still have to wait their turn for the vaccine to start their respective immunization drives. 

In comparison, Turkey, Russia and the rest of West are already underway running their respective immunization drives. While Russia is experimenting dangerously with its own pathogen version (Sputnik V), Turkey has befriended Chinese Sinovac. Other Western regions are making use of either their own vaccine candidates or the ones which have been recognized by prominent medical boards worldwide. 

However, the Caucasian region is going to have to shake hands with one of the top players in the market. The other tunnel to take is the COVAX route. Under the Covax scheme, these nations that actively participated in the development of the vaccine will be given priority under a vaccine ration system. 

This would mean that the Caucasian regions countries that are primarily poor or struggle to get back on their feet after civil wars, could look forward to 2 billion doses. But this will only come through by Spring. They will need more supplies for which they have to knock the right doors. 

While the World Health Organisation’s COVAX scheme was meant to help poor nations secure covid-19 vaccines, it has run into problems due to lack of funds. The COVAX facility currently has 190 participating economies. This includes 98 higher-income economies and 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible. Of these, countries like Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia have expressed their interest in securing the vaccines, and have also paid up hefty amounts to receive required dosages. 

Azerbaijan has contributed the largest $21 million, while Georgia made an advance payment of $4.5 million. But Georgia has its own apprehensions and reservations, if the Covax programme decides to include Russian vaccine candidate to its lot. 

The Caucasian region is banking on the Covax programme heavily and continues to have its fingers crossed. 

How various European nations are faring in their vaccination drives?
Europe

How various European nations are faring in their vaccination drives?

Vaccination Drives: As countries are racing towards vaccinating their population against Covid-19, Europe is off to a sluggish start, even though the European nations are experiencing soaring infection rate. European Union is coordinating strategy and procuring vaccines in bulk for the bloc nations, but at the end of day the member states are the ones who decide for individual vaccination drive. The EU Commission on Friday has agreed to buy an additional 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine. This will provide EU with Pfizer’s half global output for the year 2021. 

Vaccination drive has begun for various European nations. Let’s explore how it’s progressing in individual patches. 

GERMANY 

Germany’s scientists developed the very first Covid-19 vaccine – a definite point of national pride. But being an election year, vaccine and vaccination campaign has become more of an issue of political battleground. Recent surveys show that majority of German population is comfortable to get vaccinated. Vaccination drive in Germany began less than two weeks ago and by the weekend over 500,000 first doses of vaccine had been administered, with priority being given to people over 80 years and care home workers. But opposition party and coalition members is blaming Angela Merkel and her health minister Jens Spahn, the duo who have done a remarkable job till now in pandemic handling, of not utilizing the various vaccination centres. 

Germany shares 56 million doses of the EU order. Till now 1.3 million doses have been delivered and by end of month additional 2.68 million doses are expected to arrive. Germany has also ordered 30 million doses extra after recent Moderna approval by EU. Merkel’s government is sticking to its initial pledge of completing vaccination drive by summer end. 

FRANCE 

France has always boasted its remarkably big and effective health apparatus, but it has been exposed in a bad taste as the nation is off to a rather sluggish start of vaccination campaign against Covid-19. The nation has administered just 45,500 doses by Friday, a remarkably low number when compared to Germany, rendering it statistically nominal and meaningless. 

The slow start in France is confusing and questionable, specially with more than Pfizer vaccine doses waiting in the cold storage. The prime reason appears to be the centralized and cumbersome health bureaucracy in France – 45 page dossier of instructions must be read by staff at care homes to understand vaccination drive. This is to be followed by informed consent through doctor consultation, no less than five days before receiving vaccine. Another problem in France is the high scepticism among people against vaccine. 

A lot is at stake for Macron’s government, with opposition calling vaccine delay a “state scandal”

RUSSIA

In December, national pride and medical urgency pushed Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine rollout, even as the vaccines were under trial. Initially, Sputnik was being offered to the priority group of healthcare and education workers, but the list quickly expanded for the eligible groups for the first dose.

But despite national pride a big riding point in Russia, polls by Levada Centre showed that only 38% of priority group respondents were willing to get the vaccine. Early bold claims around vaccine are the main reason for increased and widespread nervousness and scepticism about getting vaccinated in Russian population. 

SWEDEN 

Sweden performance has been praiseworthy. Its slow infection rate is attributed by many to its no-lockdown policy, but still a vaccination drive is crucial. Despite the nation being almost two weeks into its vaccination programme, there is no official data available as of how many people have been vaccinated till date. The Public Health Agency of Sweden says that the process of compiling data is underway from nation’s 21 regional health authorities, that are vaccinating the entire adult population by 26th June. The date isn’t random but marks Sweden’s biggest annual public holiday weekend. 

As Europe is witnessing massive spike of coronavirus cases and a rampant variant on a spread, a rapid and effective vaccination programme across nations becomes more important than ever. 

Why Has Hungary Been Left Without Covid-19 Vaccines?
Europe

Why Has Hungary Been Left Without Covid-19 Vaccines?

Hungary Been Left: While the world frantically awaits a Corona virus vaccine with the strongest efficacy rate, Hungarians are skeptical about receiving a jab. They are not feeling prepared of being immunized, reports have confirmed. The blame is being redirected towards Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán an, who seemed to have forgotten to get the requisite vaccine into the country in time. 

In his attempt to show off that Hungary could go against the rest of the EU set vaccination strategy, he has left the public unprepared for vaccination completely. The rest of the EU is started to receive the vaccinations and has already started a stagewise rollout on December 27, 2020. 

As Hungary has been singing its own tune, it had decided to disregard altogether the European Commission’s plan for a coordinated bloc-wide rollout. The state of affairs is quite ironic to the claims made by Orban a few months ago where he accused European regulators for ‘taking too long’ to approve the vaccine. He had been confident that Hungary would be the first country in Europe to use Russian and Chinese shots.

Hungarians would like to stick with what the bloc is prescribing as a trusted vaccine. Orban’s own credibility is in choppy waters amongst his own. 

A public poll conducted by Pulzus for Napi.hu in November had confirmed that almost 53 percent Hungarians would go with the EU approved vaccine candidate, while only 11 percent would use a Russian or Chinese vaccine. The state of affairs remains the same as the year comes to an end. Even health professionals worry that vaccine skepticism might affect all vaccination efforts.

Many critics feel that Orban has been preoccupied flexing in political muscle that he has thrown the lives of the Hungarians into the gallows. With a new strain of virus already destabilizing travel and New Year plans, Hungarians have their own fears about Orban’s intentions. 

It has been further confirmed that infact, Orban has been too busy pushing the Russian vaccine Sputnik IV that has not even gone through significant human trials. While researchers feel it is a good attempt, but can’t be used for mass immunization. 

Currently, medical practitioners are suggesting that the government should still push for a large-scale public health campaign. This will reassure the public about the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines. With multiple vaccine candidates flooding the market, it is no doubt that the Hungarian population is feeling even more lost and lonely that they were a few months back, when Orban decided to veto the EU led stimulus package decision. 

European Union states approve Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
Europe

European Union states approve Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine: Days after the United Kingdom and US commenced the vaccination drive with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19, European Union’s medical regulatory body too approved the vaccine for use in 27 member states of the bloc. Following the authorization by EMA (European Medicines Agency), European Commission too gave its formal approval to vaccine for around 448 million inhabitants in the states. Sources indicate that vaccine distribution could start as early as Sunday. 

The holiday season is prompting partial lockdowns in European nations, like Netherlands and Germany, with fears of surge in cases of coronavirus infection. The new variant strain emergence in UK has forced out EU states to suspend travel from Britain, citing the high infectious rate. 

EMA has rendered Pfizer vaccine to have 96% efficacy and has allowed its use for people over 16 years of age. 

EMA’s Executive Director, Emer Cooke said, “Out thorough evaluation means that we can confidently assure EU citizens of the safety and efficacy of this vaccine and that it meets necessary quality standards.” 

“However, our work does not stop here. We will continue to collect and analyze data on the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine to protect people taking the vaccine in the EU,” Ms. Cooke added. 

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses to achieve full immunity. The second jab, booster to the first, is to be administered after 21 days from the first one. Day 12 from the first dose is when the body is triggered to start build up the immunity against the virus. Day 28 following the second jab is when complete immunity is achieved. Hence, two doses are essential to have full immunity and complete the vaccination schedule. 

Side effects of vaccine are very mild, like all other vaccinations, including fever and body ache. These are expected to subside in a day or so.

Germany is speeding away with getting its hundreds of immunization centres ready and hopes to commence vaccinating its priority group from Sunday, December 27. 

EU had ordered 300 million doses of Pfizer vaccine, which would vaccinate 150 million people. Immediately only a limited number of these would be supplied by the pharma giant. 

As US gears up for vaccination commencing Monday, Trump withholds plans of early vaccination drive in White House
Americas

As US gears up for vaccination commencing Monday, Trump withholds plans of early vaccination drive in White House

Early vaccination drive in White House: An initial plan of inoculating White House officials in an early drive has been suspended by President Donald Trump. The Sunday news that White House staff would be among the priority groups to receive Covid-19 vaccine in vaccination campaign starting Monday across the US, had attracted criticism on social media. Officials had said that senior Trump administration members would be among the first to receive the FDA approved Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. 

President Trump however tweeted later that White House officials should “receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary.” He also noted that he isn’t scheduled to receive the jab but would do so at the “appropriate time”. 

It isn’t clear what made Trump change the plans and the impact it would have on efforts to keep key officials safe from the coronavirus infection. 

US is set to roll out Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday after receiving EUA (emergency use authorization) from FDA last week. The vaccine which has been deemed to have 95% efficacy is being distributed across 50 US states to dozens of locations. The first three million doses of the ordered stock are shipping as we speak, with first shipment of those having left Michigan storage facility on Sunday. The priority groups to receive the vaccination include elderly and healthcare workers. 

With US experiencing daily peaks of positive Covid-19 cases, the vaccine rollout will be a turning point in country’s fight against the pandemic. The virus has already taken a toll of over 300,000 lives in US. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) said that its EUA on Friday was a “significant milestone” in fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is already being administered in the UK after approval. Other countries to give regulatory approval to the Pfizer vaccine are Bahrain, Canada and Saudi Arabia. 

The US vaccination drive commencement on Monday coincides with the official endorsement of Joe Biden as election winner by the Electoral College.

The early vaccines were planned to be reserved for President Trump and those working in close proximity to him, as was confirmed by National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Ullyot after being first reported by the New York Times. This was also in line with establishing confidence among American public regarding vaccine. Mr. Ullyot had said, “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.”

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is an mRNA vaccine that will be given in two jabs at an interval of 21 days. The vaccine contains a small fragment of virus’s genetic material (RNA) that when injected will trigger the body’s immune response. 

US has ordered 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine which will be supplied by March. 200 million doses of Moderna vaccine too have been ordered but the vaccine still hasn’t received FDA approval.  

Canada joins UK & becomes latest country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
Americas

Canada joins UK & becomes latest country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

Canada joins UK: Health Canada, Canada’s health regulatory body has approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, becoming third country after UK and Bahrain to do so. The body has called vaccine authorization as a “milestone” in North American country’s fight against the global coronavirus crisis. 

The vaccine was approved by agency after it was found to have met the regulatory body’s “stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements”. This has cleared the vaccine doses to be delivered by Pfizer and administered across the country.

Following the approval, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada will receive at least 249,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine by the end of this month. It is to be noted that Canada has purchased 20 million doses of the vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech. This will inoculate 10 million people as vaccine requires two jabs to be administered per person at an interval of 21 days. Canada also has an option to buy an additional 56 million doses under the agreement with pharma giant. 

UK, after approving the vaccine last week for emergency use, started its vaccination drive this Tuesday. A 90 year old UK grandmother became the first person to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

United States too has confirmed the vaccine to have 95% efficacy, clearing its path for authorization by FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The regulators are set to meet on Thursday to formally review the vaccine’s use in US. 

In Canada 14 distribution sites have been equipped with all the necessary cold storage requirements for the vaccine which requires -70C temperature for storage. The priority groups to receive vaccine include healthcare workers, and at high risk groups like elderly. Canada has also authorized vaccine to be administered to people over 16 years of age. 

The Pfizer vaccine is required to be given in two doses. Day 12 onwards from the first jab, immunity starts to build up in body. The second dose is to be given on day 21, and full immunity is reached on day 28. 

UK has issued jab warning regarding delaying vaccinating people with history of allergies (to medicine, food or vaccines) after two NHS staff workers developed serious anaphylactic reactions after getting vaccinated. These staff members had history of allergies.  

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director says that these reactions are “common with new vaccine”. Issuing a warning is just a precautionary measure. 

Health Canada officials too have advised people with allergy history to delay getting vaccinated with the Covid-19 vaccine. Plan is to monitor developments in UK and then chalk out modus operandi regarding this. 

Canada also has contracts with other vaccine manufacturers. Trudeau says that all Canadians will be vaccinated by September 2021. A network of organizations, called The People’s Vaccine Alliance, claims that Canada has ordered enough vaccines to give each Canadian vaccine at least 5 times, provided all vaccines receive authorization for use. The alliance includes Amnesty International, Oxfam and Global Justice Now.

CoronaVac: What we know about China’s Covid-19 vaccine and questions unanswered
Asia Pacific Focus

CoronaVac: What we know about China’s Covid-19 vaccine and questions unanswered

CoronaVac: As Covid-19 vaccines are making breakthrough across the globe with their success stories, China too is leaping with bounds and colours with its Covid-19 vaccine front-runner, CoronaVac. The vaccine, being developed by China’s Beijing-based pharma giant, Sinovac, has already arrived in Indonesia for country’s mass vaccination drive against Coronavirus. Another shipment of additional 1.8 million doses is scheduled for January. But the big question of what we truly know about this vaccine arises from the fact that Sinovac vaccine is yet to finish its last phase of trials. 

Chemistry around Sinovac vaccine & how it’s different from other Covid-19 vaccines 

Sinovac’s CoronaVac is an inactivated vaccine, which means it contains killed viral particles which trigger immune response in body when inoculated. The chances of this type of vaccine to risk a serious response are negligible. In contrast, Pfizer and Moderna have developed mRNA vaccines, that is, part of the viral genetic code is injected that triggers body to produce viral proteins, but not the complete virus. This triggers immune response in body. But mRNA vaccines can trigger an adverse response. 

Associate Prof Luo Dahai of the Nanyang Technological University explains, “CoronaVac is a more traditional method of vaccine that is successfully used in many well known vaccines like rabies. mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine and there is currently no successful example of them being used in the population.” 

Furthermore, CoronaVac requires standard refrigerator temperature of 2-8C for storage. Oxford vaccine too requires similar temperatures. But Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require extremely low temperatures of -20C and -70C respectively. This makes CoronaVac and Oxford vaccines perfectly suitable for developing nations. 

What do we know about its efficacy?

As we only have data of first and second phase of trials of the vaccine, the exact efficacy of CoronaVac is difficult to determine, according to scientific journal The Lancet. The first phase trials included 144 participants while second phase had 600 volunteers. This means the vaccine is suitable for emergency use. In September, Sinovac relayed that after tests were done on 1000 people, just under 5% displayed minor fatigue or discomfort. 

Sinovac’s Brazilian partner, The Butantan Institute expects the trials results to be published by Sinovac before December 15. Late stage trials of CoronaVac were started in Brazil in November. 

How many CoronaVac doses can be produced in a year?

China’s pharma giant Sinovac will be able to manufacture 300 million doses of vaccine in a year in its newly built production plant sprawling across 20,000 sqm. But it, like other vaccines, requires two doses per person. This means 150 million people will be able to receive vaccination. 

Sinovac has already dispatched a vaccine lot to Indonesia, and has secured deals with Brazil, Turkey and Chile. 

After being centre of criticism of all nations due to coronavirus infection spread, China is now desperate to rise and shine with its bid to win vaccine race. President Xi Jinping has pledged $2 billion for Africa and has also offered a loan of $1 billion to Latin America and Caribbean nations for buying vaccines. But keeping in mind China’s track record, it is expected that these deals might have a hidden agenda or catch with a clause for some diplomatic or commercial profit in exchange.   

China’s COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy failing in ASEAN: Report
Geopolitics

China’s COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy failing in ASEAN: Report

China’s COVID-19 vaccine: As China tries to boost its image with COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy, ASEAN is looking for alternatives

As countries across the world are working diligently to develop a viable vaccine against COVID-19, China has been making efforts to restore its image through its vaccine diplomacy in response to widespread criticism over its mishandling of the pandemic outbreak. 

However, Beijing has faced a major setback in its strategy after ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members including Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines signed various deals for procurement of the COVID-19 vaccine with pharmaceutical companies from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Notably, China’s delay in providing crucial information related to the genetic components of Coronavirus hampered the efforts of other countries to develop a potential vaccine to tackle the virus. Coronavirus had originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in November 2019 and spread across the world within months, affecting the lives of billions of people. 

With access to all information about the virus, China benefitted from a head start in developing a potential vaccine. As soon as it achieved success in developing a vaccine against COVID-19, China offered it to other countries in a bid to bolster its diplomatic engagement, exert geopolitical influence and pursue its broader regional objectives. 

A number of senior Chinese leaders visited Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, assuring them priority access to the vaccine. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia had also signed deals to work together with Chinese state-owned drug makers to develop the vaccines. At a time when advanced nations such as the US, UK and Australia were busy developing potential vaccines prioritising domestic needs, China stepped up its efforts to provide vaccine development and distribution assistance to ASEAN nations.

However, as per media reports, ASEAN countries have been asked to extend support to Beijing at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in barter for the vaccine in a bid to revive its goodwill. According to an Economic Times report, a reporter from China’s state-run Xinhua news agency had posted on his Weibo account that Premier Li Keqiang had made it a prerequisite for ASEAN countries to support China at the WHO for its support in combating the virus. 

Amid this development, ASEAN countries have grown cautious of Beijing’s strategy to influence the region. On Friday, Thailand and the Philippines reportedly secured millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. At the same time, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also announced that the country has signed a deal with US drug maker Pfizer to procure its COVID-19 vaccine for 20 percent of its population amid efforts to combat the pandemic.

Notably, the vaccine race has now grown into a proxy war for dominance between China, the US and Russia, amid a global dissociation on the critical issue. The provision of a Chinese vaccine will have significant geopolitical implications. Significantly, Beijing has already offered a $1 billion loan to Latin America and the Caribbean for access to its COVID-19 vaccine. 

Meanwhile, over 150 countries have joined the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility) initiative launched by a collaboration of the WHO, vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. It aims to speed up the development, manufacturing and equitable distribution of vaccines against COVID-19 among member countries.

G-20 nations pledge a fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccine in the world
Asia Pacific Focus

G-20 nations pledge a fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccine in the world

G-20 nations pledge: On Sunday, In a G20 virtual meeting, world leaders pledged to provide a fair distribution of coronavirus vaccine around the world, however, offered no particular new funding to meet that objective.

“We have a responsibility to rise to the challenge together during this meeting,” King Salman announced as he inaugurated the meeting. 

The summit is held online for the first time due to the pandemic. The members are talking about the effect of the Covid on the world economy and exploring ideas to invigorate financial recuperation and development. 

The Summit was facilitated by Saudi Arabia. His Highness King Salman’s statement was made as worldwide Covid cases reached 58 million, and overall deaths by the virus reached 1.4 million, as indicated by Johns Hopkins University. 

The G-20 members are worried that the pandemic will extend the gap between the wealthy and the poor. To battle that, the European Union asked for commitments adding up to $4.5 billion to Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, a worldwide effort to accelerate the development and dissemination of vaccines, treatment, and tests as indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

King Salman called on member nations to reassure the global community of reasonable and impartial admittance to the vaccine. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised more than 500 million euros (almost USD 593 million). Russia’s President Vladimir Putin proposed Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and China offered to coordinate on the vaccine. 

U.S. President Donald Trump, who dodged a few meetings on Saturday to play golf, paid little consideration to other pioneers’ speech and alleged that the Paris climate deal was planned not to spare the planet but rather to destroy the US economy. 

The White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany expressed that Trump discussed the need to cooperate to reestablish financial development, yet she didn’t refer to a U.S. vow to help the worldwide distribution of the vaccine.

 As Trump left the virtual conference, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, said in a Treasury Department stated that the 7-month-old Debt Service Suspension Initiative “is a fundamental accomplishment of the G-20 because of the pandemic.” 

The initiative intends to enable the world’s least fortunate nations to tussle with the results of the pandemic until mid-2021. 

Treasury’s statement added that the G-20’s Common Framework would enable the poorest nations to address pandemic-induced debt issues “by organizing sovereign debt resolution if necessary.” 

Russian President Putin also focused on the aftermaths of the virus on the world economy, causing a crisis that caused famine in many parts of the world, as well as poverty and job cuts, which are the greatest dangers to humankind today.” 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that “Decisions made in the summit will be decisive for limiting the negative impacts of coronavirus for the world and also respond to the world’s expectations.” 

G-20 member nations incorporate Argentina, Germany, India, Australia, Canada, China, Brazil, Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, France, Indonesia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United States, Turkey, and the European Union. 

The EU and the UN stated that there is a £4.5bn financing setback this year that the G20 countries should help to reach. Nations have so far put $10bn in the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and in the Covax Facility. 

The majority of the meeting zeroed in on guaranteeing that when the coronavirus vaccines will launch in the market, it will be accessible at reasonable costs in poor nations.

A big challenge for Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine
Geopolitics

A big challenge for Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine

A Big challenge for Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine: The week commenced with a positive note as American pharma giant Pfizer and its partner German firm BioNTech announced that their Covid-19 vaccine is 90% efficient with no major side effects. The news brought good news for stock markets as the numbers raised amid hopes of return to normalcy with an effective Covid-19 vaccine. Governments across the world have started scrambling to procure, store and prepare for vaccine roll-out. But equitable distribution of vaccine to all the nations, especially poorer and more vulnerable, will pose as a major hurdle. 

The biggest challenge with this particular vaccine is storage – it requires to be stored at -70C (-94F). This is a bitter news for low economy nations, like Africa, which is already plummeting with vaccine storage infrastructure. 

Major economies like US and European Union are already on track with establishing logistics for the vaccine once it is procured by the manufacturing giant. Two huge facilities, equipped with bulk freezers have been set up in Kalamazoo, Michigan in US, and in Puurs, Belgium. These facilities will function as the central point of storage and shipping of coronavirus vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech. 

Kroll, a risk consulting firm’s Managing Director, Nick Doyle underlines, “It’s going to be a monumental challenge. We do have a duty of care for international populations. The poorer countries in the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Asia, are going to find this challenging.”

Though the development of promising and efficacious Covid-19 vaccine is extremely gratifying, the problem isn’t solved for poorer nations of Africa and Southeast Asia who are struggling to even have one functioning vaccine refrigerator. 

Pfizer and BioNTech, post affirming more data, are planning to apply for emergency approval of vaccine in US and regulators by the end of this month, and then commence shipping to other nations by December. US has already blocked a bulk of 100 million doses, while EU has ordered for 200 million and UK 40 million. Pfizer is under process to accomplish supply of 50 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year and 1.3 billion doses by next year. The centres in Puurs and Kalamazoo have already started manufacturing thousands of doses. More “freezer farms” are on stand-by to provide storage for vaccines in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and in Karlsruhe, Germany. 

Customized storage boxes have been prepared by Pfizer that can keep the vaccines at a maintained ultra-cold temperature using dry ice (solid carbon dioxide). These re-usable suitcase-sized boxes will be used to transport 1000 to 5000 doses and can maintain the temperature for up to 10 days. Pfizer has said that the vaccine can be then stored at fridge temperatures of 2-8C for up to 5 days. 

The custom-made boxes can be GPS tracked and also inform the Pfizer control station of temperatures being maintained in the transport trucks. Pfizer is hoping to transport about 25 lorries a day full of these boxes to enable rapid distribution from these centres to airports, moving round 7.6 million doses per day. 

Logistic firms like FedEx, UPS and DHL are also working to strengthen and streamline their operations and logistics for smooth transportation of vaccines. UPS has built storage freezer farms, one each in US and Netherlands, which can hold around 800 deep freezers and keep vaccines at -80C temperature. DHL and FedEx are also building storage units and keeping refrigerated lorries on stand-by. 

Germany has also set up 60 vaccination centres which are equipped with freezers for vaccine storage at ultra-low temperatures. 

Other Covid-19 vaccines that are being developed and are under phase 3 of clinical trials do not require such low temperatures. Vaccine by US firm Moderna can be kept at -20C temperatures, like in home refrigerators. AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine can be stored and shipped in unfrozen state. 

Following couple of weeks and months will keep governments and pharma giants Pfizer and BioNTech on their toes as they scramble to manufacture and roll out the vaccine in a most unhinged and smooth fashion to all nations in an equitable way. 

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