COVID-19 Vaccines in Low-Income Countries

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PARIS, France — Nine out of 10 people in low-income nations could miss out on the COVID-19 vaccine due to a shortage in supply and inequalities in access between the developed and developing world. However, there are international initiatives putting exceptional effort into making accessible COVID-19 vaccines in low-income countries.

The Issue With Global Vaccine Distribution

Every nation is striving to immunize as much of its population in the shortest amount of time possible. Unfortunately, COVID-19 vaccines in low-income countries are in a much shorter supply.

According to the head of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, actions taken by western countries have threatened access to vaccines for the rest of the world. The data shows that more than 53% of the global vaccine supply has been already secured by wealthier nations. Likewise, the richest nations have purchased 96% of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supply, the most effective Covid-19 vaccine produced so far (95% efficacy rate).

To make matters worse, limited access, high prices, specific storing conditions and varying efficacy rates further complicate the process of immunization. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, the two most effective vaccines, must remain in temperatures lower than -90 degrees. On the other hand, China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm, the two vaccines said to be easier to obtain in the developing world, are less effective with efficacy rates as low as 50%.

In contrast, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are not only more effective (70% efficacy rate) than their Chinese counterparts but are also designed to be easily kept in refrigerators. Reportedly, 64% of the Oxford vaccine will go to developing countries. This will not be enough and others will have to help.

Global Vaccination Efforts by Non-Government Entities

The World Health Organisation, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations are working to provide low-income countries vaccines through COVAX. This is by far the most ambitious global Covid-19 vaccine program, aiming to deliver two billion doses of the approved vaccines to people in 91 low and middle-income nations by the end of this year. By the end of 2021, it is estimating to cover 20% of the population. Nevertheless, COVAX does not provide fully reimbursed vaccines. Countries will have to pay a subsidized price of up to $4 per double dose.

UNICEF is committing to deliver up to 850 tonnes of doses to developing countries a month. What’s more, UNICEF is in charge of installing in low-income countries “70,000 cold chain fridges” by the end of 2021. Around 50% of these are solar-powered. This is essential for storing the vaccines properly, especially in hotter climates.

The most recent initiative intending to widen the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines comes from Zipline, a medical delivery company. Zipline made deal with Nigeria’s Kaduna state. The collaboration is said to help Kaduna and other states in Nigeria to obtain on-demand deliveries of more precise amounts of the Pfizer vaccines for millions of Nigerians. Although this particular vaccine must stay in temperatures lower than -70C, Zipline facilitates its easy delivery and storage by using cool boxes filled with dry ice. The company has already worked with Ghana, Rwanda and the United States where it regularly delivers vaccines, blood and other medical equipment.

A Helping Hand

Apart from previously mentioned schemes, some higher-income countries have also pledged to make accessible Covid-19 vaccines in low-income countries. For example, Australia offered to donate vaccine doses to neighboring nations, such as Vanuatu and Kiribati. Similarly, China promised to share its vaccine doses with Burma, Cambodia and the Philippines. The European Union announced a plan to donate 5% of its purchased vaccines to countries in need. Although a concrete plan has yet to emerge, around 65 million vaccine doses would go towards the most vulnerable.

The global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines highlights pre-existing inequalities between nations. Hopefully, through the work of these passionate, determined organizations and schemes the vaccination gap will come to a close.

– Natalia Barszcz
Photo: Pixabay 

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