Vaccine nationalism will hurt the anti-COVID-19 effort


Vaccine nationalism will hurt the anti-COVID-19 effort

Thursday, November 12, 2020

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Pfizer US Pharmaceuticals Group, which has just announced its COVID-19 vaccine, is the same company which gave the world Viagra — the little blue pill used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction or impotence in men.

Viagra, for which Pfizer's patent expires this year, doesn't make the news anymore and is not discussed with anywhere near the intensity of 1998 when it was accidentally discovered in the search for a cardiovascular drug.

We can surmise that in time the vaccine to treat COVID-19 disease will drop out of the news as the novel coronavirus is overcome and the world recovers from one of, if not the worst pandemics in all of human history.

Before that happens, however, it is critical to recognise that a vaccine is not the same as vaccination. The COVID-19 vaccine will need to reach all those who need it and wish to have it, which is going to be the next big challenge.

We can expect that the bigger and better-resourced countries will be at the front of the delivery line. Indeed, the European Union has already agreed to buy up to 300 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, as it is called.

Early data suggest that the vaccine protects more than 90 per cent of people from developing COVID-19 symptoms and deliveries are expected to start by the end of this year, the manufacturer has said.

If left to the nature of men, small countries like Jamaica would be elbowed out to await the time when the vaccine can trickle down to us, whenever that is.

One recalls that a shipment of ventilators procured for Barbados at the height of the COVID-19 war by that country's superstar Rihanna was intercepted at sea and taken back to the US.

Of course, we are encouraged by news that other vaccines are near to completion in the US and other countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the Coalition for Epidemic Innovations and Preparedness in supporting nine candidate vaccines that will be made available, if successful, seven of which are in clinical trials. Another 13 are in the early stages of development.

It goes without saying that these vaccines need to reach the ends of the Earth, wherever COVID-19 has been. If nothing else, we have learnt from this virus that no country has the luxury of being able to isolate itself in this interdependent and inter-connected world.

Naturally, supplies of the vaccine will be limited at first, and it makes every sense that we direct it to essential workers and those most at risk, including older people and those with underlying conditions in all, not some countries.

As the WHO says, vaccine nationalism will only prolong the pandemic, not shorten it. This is clearly where globalism is preferred to national self-centredness which would hurt not just small countries.

Luckily, for countries like Jamaica, under the WHO, there is an agreed international mechanism called the COVAX Facility, which is for ensuring equitable global access to the world's largest portfolio of vaccine candidates.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in partnership with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), has secured down payments to purchase more than one million doses of the impending COVID-19 vaccine for Caribbean states.

Jamaica was one of the countries in the region to obtain 100 per cent of the required down payment.

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