Rich countries are scrambling to reserve coronavirus vaccine doses, which means poorer countries likely won't get them
Affluent countries are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to reserve doses of COVID-19 vaccines for their citizens. This means poorer countries may be left waiting months to get enough doses to inoculate their citizens. The US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands have all reserved doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford. A counter effort is underway to ensure that vaccine makers produce enough to cover everyone at the first instance. The effort is led by the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Red Cross, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Rich nations are placing large advance orders for COVID-19 vaccines, which could mean poor countries will be left behind. A handful of vaccine candidates have shown promising results during clinical trials, the most in-demand of which is being developed by the University of Oxford, which has partnered with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. Countries have rushed to secure enough doses to take care of their own citizens, at vast expense.
On May 17, the UK invested $79 million in the Oxford vaccine program in exchange for 30 million doses. On May 21, the US secured 300 million doses of the same vaccine after signing a deal of up to $1.2 billion with AstraZeneca. On June 15, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands — who together lead the European Union's Inclusive Vaccines Alliance — signed a deal with AstraZeneca for 400 million doses by the end of 2020. And on June 17, the EU launched its European Vaccine Strategy to make sure everyone in the bloc has access to an inoculation. $2.3 billion has been earmarked.
Vaccine makers expect that 10 billion doses are needed to cover a global inoculation drive, Dr. Frank Heinricht, the CEO of the glass vial maker Schott, told Business Insider. Schott is currently working with pharma giants, like AstraZeneca, to bottle a vaccine. Rights groups and campaigners at the UN and International Red Cross have warned that such forward planning by these countries will leave poorer countries behind. "We can't just rely on goodwill to ensure access," Arzoo Ahmed, of Britain's Nuffield Council on Bioethics, told The Associated Press (AP). "With HIV/AIDS, it took 10 years for the drugs to reach people in lower-income countries. If that happens with COVID-19, that would be very worrying."
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the WHO, also told the AP: "We don't want to be in a situation where there are doses of a vaccine but they're just available to some countries." "We need to have a consensus on that so we can agree to share the vaccine in a way that protects the most vulnerable." A number of initiative have been set up to ensure that poorer countries will have access to the vaccine.
On June 4, AstraZeneca said that it had signed agreements worth $750 million with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to secure 300 million doses. The EU is also keen to ensure poorer countries aren't left behind. "When it comes to fighting a global pandemic, there is no place for 'me first,'" Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said on Wednesday. AstraZeneca also signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India, which will see 400 million doses reserved for low- and middle-income countries. Johnson & Johnson also said it will not make a profit on sales of its vaccine to poorer nations. AstraZeneca have also said they will make no profit from their product. China, which is also working to develop a vaccine, has pledged to give any successful vaccine to African countries first. President Xi Jinping last month said any vaccine research would be "made a global public good."
The question of who gets the vaccine, when they get it, and how much they get has become an ethical quandary. "There's this idea that the vaccine is a get-out-of-jail-free card," Arthur Caplan, director of New York University's Division of Medical Ethics, told Business Insider last month. "But the reality is that we'll see the biggest ethical challenge the world has ever seen." Even though the US has sought to reserve enough doses for every American, there will still be a hierarchy within the country. President Donald Trump's administration said on Tuesday a system will be put in place to people to see who gets access to the first vaccine doses. It also said the vaccine will be free for vulnerable Americans if they can't afford it. In March, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that the Trump administration had offered a large sum to secure exclusive rights to a COVID-19 vaccine from the German company CureVac. The US denied the claim.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why Pikes Peak is the most dangerous racetrack in America
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