/Battle over access to Covid-19 vaccines ahead as rich nations are first in line | Fin24

Battle over access to Covid-19 vaccines ahead as rich nations are first in line | Fin24

Coronavirus vaccine research is currently the most needed drug in various countries

Coronavirus vaccine research is currently the most needed drug in various countries

  • Wealthy countries have already locked up more than a billion doses
    of coronavirus vaccines.
  • The US, Britain, European Union and Japan have so far secured about
    1.3 billion doses of potential Covid-19 immunisations.
  • The World Health Organisation, the Coalition for Epidemic
    Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance are working
    together to bring about equitable and broad access.

Wealthy countries have already locked up more than
a billion doses of coronavirus vaccines, raising worries that the rest of the
world will be at the back of the queue in the global effort to defeat the
pathogen.

Moves by the US and UK to
secure supplies from Sanofi and partner GlaxoSmithKline Plc, and another pact
between Japan and Pfizer Inc., are the latest in a string of agreements. The
European Union has also been aggressive in obtaining shots, well before anyone
knows whether they will work.

Although international groups and a number of
nations are promising to make vaccines affordable and accessible to all, doses
will likely struggle to keep up with demand in a world of roughly 7.8 billion
people. The possibility wealthier countries will monopolize supply, a scenario
that played out in the 2009 swine flu pandemic, has fueled concerns among poor
nations and health advocates.

The US, Britain, European Union and Japan have so
far secured about 1.3 billion doses of potential Covid-19 immunisations,
according to London-based analytics firm Airfinity.
Options to snap up additional supplies or pending deals would add more than 1.5
billion doses to that total, its figures show.

Even if you have an optimistic assessment of the
scientific progress, there’s still not enough vaccines for the world,”
according to Rasmus Bech Hansen, Airfinity’s chief executive officer. What’s
also important to consider is that most of the vaccines may require two doses,
he said.

A few front-runners, such as the University of
Oxford and partner AstraZeneca Plc and a Pfizer-BioNTech SE collaboration, are
already in final-stage studies, fuelling hopes that a weapon to fight Covid-19
will be available soon. But developers must still clear a number of hurdles:
proving their shots are effective, gaining approval and ramping up
manufacturing. Worldwide supply may not reach 1 billion doses until the first
quarter of 2022, Airfinity forecasts.

Investing in production capacity all over the world
is seen as one of the keys to
solving the dilemma, and pharma companies are starting to outline plans to
deploy shots widely. Sanofi and Glaxo intend to provide a significant portion
of worldwide capacity in 2021 and 2022 to a global initiative that’s focused on
accelerating development and production and distributing shots equitably.

The World Health Organisation, the Coalition for
Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance are working
together to bring about equitable and broad access. They outlined an $18
billion plan in June to roll out shots and secure 2 billion doses by the end of
2021.

The initiative, known as Covax, aims to give
governments an opportunity to hedge the risk of backing unsuccessful candidates
and give other nations with limited finances access to shots that would be
otherwise unaffordable.

Tangle of Deals

Countries would need to strike a series of
different agreements with vaccine makers to raise their chances of getting
supplies, as some shots won’t succeed, a situation that could lead to bidding
battles and inefficiencies, Seth Berkley, Gavi’s CEO, said in an interview.

“The thing we worry about most is getting a
tangle of deals,” he said. “Our hope is with a portfolio of
vaccines we can get countries to come together.”

Some 78 nations have expressed interest in joining
Covax, he said. In addition, more than 90 low- and middle-income countries and
economies will be able to access Covid-19
vaccines through a Gavi-led program, the group said Friday. There’s still
concern the rest of the world might fall behind.

“That is exactly what we’re trying to avoid,”
Berkley said.

Biggest investment

AstraZeneca in June became the
first manufacturer to sign up to Gavi’s program, committing 300
million doses, and Pfizer and BioNTech signalled interest in
potentially supplying Covax.

The Trump administration agreed to provide as much
as $2.1 billion to partners Sanofi and Glaxo, the biggest US investment yet for
Operation Warp Speed, the nation’s vaccine development and procurement program.
The funding will support clinical trials and manufacturing while allowing the US
to secure 100 million doses, if it’s successful. The country has an option to
receive an additional 500 million doses longer term.

The European Union is closing in on a deal for as
many as 300 million doses of the Sanofi-Glaxo shot and is in advanced
discussions with several other companies, according to a
statement Friday.

“The European Commission is also committed to
ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world and
not only at home,” it said.

The US has invested in a number of other projects.
Pfizer and BioNTech last week reached a $1.95 billion deal to supply their
vaccine to the government, should regulators clear it. Novavax Inc. earlier
this month announced a $1.6 billion deal, while the US earlier pledged as much
as $1.2 billion to AstraZeneca to spur development and production.

US investment to speed up trials, scale up
manufacturing and boost vaccine development is “great news for the world,”
assuming vaccines are shared, Berkley said.

“It helps drive the science forward,” he
said. “On that I’m very positive. My concern is that we need global
supply.”

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