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  • Raghav Sand

Preparations for COVID-19 Vaccine

Usually a vaccine takes up to two years in deployment from the initial development stage. COVID-19 has compressed the timeframe of phases of vaccine development. The normal pace of research and development is not being followed by scientists and drug approval authority for obvious reasons. Loss of human life and catastrophic economic events have erased years of development. Globalization is a double edged sword; it pulled millions out of poverty, but the interdependence has meant that no country is immune from the ill-effects of curtailed commercial activity.

Most vaccines under development have entered the crucial third phase. The scale and speed of work has never been seen before. The concerted global effort and public-private partnership has been proportional to the severity of the crisis. Governments are laying groundwork for the immunization drive and are busy preparing the standard operating procedures. It is logical to have a plan from now and not wait to draft one after the vaccine is approved.

Priority Recipients of Vaccine

There is a broad consensus in the world with respect to the initial group of persons that will get the vaccine shots. Elderly people, health workers, essential workers, military & law enforcement personnel, and persons at high risk have been selected for the first batch of immunization. As these group of persons get vaccinated, health authorities will monitor the efficacy of vaccine and efforts will be made to enhance production and distribution. It is important to make use of existing capabilities and facilities of the drug industry. We have to be careful about not derailing the ongoing vaccination initiatives. Those who get priority in getting shots cannot lower the guard before everyone is immunized.

Logistical Challenges

Important lessons must have been learnt after the shortcomings noted in the procurement and assignment of PPE Kits in the early days of COVID-19. Once the vaccine is approved and subsequently produced in large numbers, it will be a test of both human and artificial intelligence how it formulates last mile delivery.

There have to be enough cold storage transport options as one of the top contenders in the race is the vaccine being developed by Moderna and Pfizer; it is based on nucleic acid. Nucleic acids are the main information-carrying molecules of the cell, and, by directing the process of protein synthesis, they determine the inherited characteristics of every living thing. The two main classes of nucleic acids are deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). This type of vaccine needs to be kept at minus 80-degree-celcius.

Pieces in the Vaccine Puzzle

Primarily the vaccine delivery mechanism will have the following components:

  1. Vaccine fluid;

  2. Syringe;

  3. Vial – also known as a phial or flacon, is a small glass or plastic vessel or bottle, often used to store medication as liquids, powders or capsules; and

  4. Stopper – a plug for sealing a hole, especially in the neck of a bottle or other container.

Presently there is global shortage of Vial and other components should be made ready for deployment at short notice.

Who Will Pay for the Vaccine?

Recently, there has been a politicization of the possible COVID-19 vaccine; it has found mention in election manifestos and debates. National budgets and welfare schemes are stretched to its limits, but it prudent for governments to pay for the immunization. As per a recent podcast by the ‘The Economist’ newspaper, COVID-19 is costing $500 billion per month to the global GDP. As per an estimate of Government of India, COVID-19 vaccine is likely to cost $6-$7 per person. If this calculus holds good, then the global coverage of COVID-19 vaccine will pay for itself in the months to come subject to normalization of economic activity. Some pharma companies have pledged that they will not profit form the COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic.

COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. 180 countries have joined hands in this consortium and its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX will guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. It will support 92 low-and-middle-income countries’ access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. The approximately US$958 million in commitments made by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Italy and Sweden this week, mean that nearly US$1.7 billion has been raised for the Gavi COVAX AMC so far, thanks to contributions from other sovereign donors, the private sector, and philanthropic sources.

How Globalization will respond to vaccine

We live in an interdependent and interconnected world. It is in everyone’s interest that COVID-19 vaccine has no borders. The global economy can regain lost ground when economic activity attains pre-COVID-19 levels. Movement of people is a big component and for trade and tourism to kickstart we need global coverage of immunization drive. Rich countries have corporations which have supply chain spread in the length and breadth of the planet. Commercial and humanitarian grounds will make sure that middle and low-income countries get subsidized access. A circuit breaker lockdown, where short and sharper lockdown is imposed, should be the last resort.

Until all this becomes a reality, we should follow health and safety guidelines. Mask and social distancing have contained the virus to a large extent. We cannot let the festive season become a super-spreader event.

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