Sangeeta Shashikant, a legal adviser at the Third World Network, an independent non-profit international research and advocacy organization involved in issues relating to development, developing countries and North-South relations, has been working to help developing countries access vaccines fairly and solve intellectual property problems involving the vaccines.
She said developing countries have little access to Covid-19 vaccines due to a global imbalance in research and production, most of which takes place in Europe, North America, China and Japan.
“There is almost no research and production in Latin America, Africa and most parts of Asia. Therefore, these countries, most of whom are developing countries, have no power to negotiate and buy in,” she told NewsChina. “They can only rely on international aid or one or two deals for small amounts [of vaccine].”
Statistics from the WHO show that as of October 19, there are 198 vaccine candidates developed worldwide, with 44 of them in clinical trials, including three from China and three from the US and UK entering Phase III trials. Countries like Brazil, Argentina and Mexico have provided test subjects for Phase III trials in exchange for technology and production licences.
For example, Brazil has signed technology transference agreements with the Jenner Institute of Oxford University, China National Biotec Group and Sinovac Biotech. Brazil is able to produce 30 million Oxford vaccines during the trial period and 70 million vaccines after the clinical trials.
Shashikant told our reporter that the world is in a totally different scenario than before and the same rules no longer apply. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly and with high mortality, so it will not end as quickly as SARS and H1N1. The only solution is that “everyone takes a vaccine and [we] attain herd immunity.”
“The biggest challenge is if we want to manufacture that scale of vaccines, this is almost an unprecedented scale, and we also need to do this in a very short period of time. No country has this kind of experience, [even] America, Britain or any country with a big vaccine production capacity,” she said.
Herd immunity means that 70 to 90 percent of people are immune to the virus. There are around 7.5 billion people in the world and at least 5.25 to 6.75 billion people have to acquire immunity. It sometimes takes two shots to acquire immunity and a minimum of 10 billion coronavirus vaccines will be required. In 2018, the world had a production capacity of 3.5 billion vaccines and it is still unable to meet global needs if all vaccine manufacturing lines are producing coronavirus vaccines only.
Seth Berkley, an epidemiologist and the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, told NewsChina that “vaccine nationalism” further aggravates the extremely uneven distribution of vaccines around the world. In the end, he added, only a few countries have the ability to supply enough vaccines for their own people, such as the US and UK. Even within the EU, many wealthy countries cannot get sufficient vaccines, which in turn will delay the global escape from the pandemic.
He added that for countries that are clear of the pandemic, there are still risks. No one can predict if the virus will mutate. Before all countries are protected, there is still the risk of a renewed outbreak.
“Unlike the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, in today’s globalization, most downstream supply chains have moved to developing countries. The inevitable global economic recession brought about by the pandemic will mainly affect the United States, Europe and China. The United States will not be alone in its own way, if it practices vaccine nationalism,” he said.