CHICAGO, Illinois — The COVID-19 vaccine has been a much-awaited milestone in the world’s response to the pandemic. However, having a vaccine is not the same as making it accessible to everyone. For many developing nations, access to the new COVID-19 vaccine is especially difficult. The Gates Foundation is working to find a more equitable distribution for COVUD-19 vaccines.
It’s been difficult to gauge the spread of COVID-19 inside China due to discrepancies in media reports and the Chinese government’s efforts to contain virus-related news within its borders. As of the end of 2020, Chinese-controlled news sources declared the pandemic situation under control. However, this came after months of shifting blame around to preserve President Xi’s reputation, blaming Wuhan, imprisoning journalists and trying to silence whistleblowing doctors, most notably, Dr. Li Wenliang.
The Chinese company Sinopharm created two COVID-19 vaccines that utilize the deactivated virus, similar to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. China supplied the vaccine to nearly 1,000,000 people ahead of its third-phase trial results. Experts claimed that this was a risky move since awaiting the third-phase trial results is customary before ramping up vaccination efforts.
China’s hasty development and deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine came after many of the wealthiest countries, such as the U.K. and the U.S., had been accused of hoarding Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. This, in turn, allowed countries like China, India and Russia to capitalize on the vaccine shortages and inadequate healthcare systems that plague many developing nations.
The Chinese government has been focusing on making deals in burgeoning economies for Sinovac vaccine clinical trials with the prospect of building vaccine production facilities in those countries. In turn, this would amplify China’s economic and political influence.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was in charge of monitoring the virus in India. The Indian Institute of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Virology (NIV) funneled their resources into developing diagnostic and research tools to combat the pandemic. While cases continued to rise in various parts of India, most of these cases were from people who recently visited virus-heavy parts of Europe.
India’s weaknesses against the pandemic revolve around the country’s high-density population, the high number of infectious diseases and a weak healthcare system. Since the rise of a vaccine, India rolled out two of its own: Covishield and Covaxin. The country then sent one million doses to Nepal, two million to Bangladesh, 150,000 to Bhutan, 100,000 to the Maldives, 1.5 million to Myanmar and two million to Brazil. India has since approved both of these vaccines for emergency use and intends to use this as an opportunity to foster goodwill in the region.
According to World Health Organization’s assessment, Indonesia should have allocated more of its budget to COVID-19 screening for staff at points of entry and exit at its borders and purchasing protective equipment. The availability of healthcare resources and facilities is also not consistent across all of Indonesia’s regions. Laboratories charged with testing for COVID-19 have also been struggling.
Indonesia hopes to begin vaccination in April, citing the Sinopharm, AstraZeneca or Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine as the most likely options. Like many other countries, Indonesia has authorized the use of the vaccine for emergency use. It hopes that 70% of the population will get vaccinated within a year of the country receiving a vaccine.
Vaccine Deployment and Surveillance
While countries that developed COVID-19 vaccines get access to them first, they also get to determine who they give or sell the vaccines to. This was demonstrated by China’s business ventures in the vaccine market and India’s mass vaccine deployment to other countries.
So far, China has vaccinated only around 1.6% of the population of February 3, 2021. India has vaccinated 0.45 per 100 as of February 8, 2021, and Indonesia has vaccinated 0.36 per 100 for that same day. For comparison, the U.S. has vaccinated 12.81 people out of every 100 as of February 8, 2021. The difference in numbers highlights an unfortunate truth: Countries with money have higher immunization rates while those without are suffering the impacts of COVID-19 more severely.
Working for Equal Distribution
In the past, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation worked to mitigate issues such as global poverty, education and health. Recently, the organization started to support global vaccines and immunization deployment. The Gates Foundation’s goal is to make vaccine production “faster, better and cheaper.” It focuses on designing vaccine trials that are more adaptive. The foundation plans to do this by optimizing release times and dosages of the vaccine, improving effective delivery mechanisms and investing in technology that allows small-batch vaccine production.”
While this is its general approach to vaccines, the Gates Foundation understands that this is not the one-size-fits-all solution. However, it certainly sets an example in bettering vaccine deployment for diseases that lend themselves to vaccine making — diseases like the Coronavirus.
– Catherine Lin