Who gets to be first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine?
U.S. health authorities hope by late next month to have some draft guidance on how to ration initial doses, but it’s a vexing decision.
“Not everybody’s going to like the answer,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, recently told one of the advisory groups the government asked to help decide. “There will be many people who feel that they should have been at the top of the list.”
Traditionally, first in line for a scarce vaccine are health workers and the people most vulnerable to the targeted infection.
But Collins tossed new ideas into the mix: Consider geography and give priority to people where an outbreak is hitting hardest. AP reported.
Why so many vaccines are being developed
According to the latest list of the World Health Organisation, at least 165 vaccines for novel Coronavirus were being developed across the world. There are possibly more, but still in the early stages, and not listed by WHO. Those that are listed have all entered at least the pre-clinical trials stage. Some of them are in the final stage of human trials, possibly only a few months away from hitting the market (a Russian vaccine promises to be ready in weeks, if not in days), while many others are just getting into animal trials, and are perhaps a couple of years away from becoming ready.
But why are so many vaccines being developed? Do we need so many Coronavirus vaccines? Wouldn’t one be enough? Wouldn’t the first one to hit the market make others redundant? Aren’t then we wasting huge amount of money and resources in duplicating efforts? Shouldn’t everyone collaborate to produce just one effective vaccine, and concentrate our efforts in ensuring that it is made available to all?
Here are some possible answers.
Vaccines fail. Vaccine development has a very low success rate
It might not be evident in the context of the current pandemic, when so many companies and research laboratories are rushing to produce a vaccine, but vaccine development is an incredibly complex, time-consuming, resource-intensive process. Besides, it is also a very high-risk process. The chances of success are extremely low.
The world needs multiple Coronavirus vaccines
Considering the prevailing situation in which everyone would want to get their hands on the vaccine as quickly as possible, one vaccine is unlikely to meet the immediate global demand. There are already indications that some countries may corner a bulk of the new vaccines, while the others are left to wait for them to become available at a later date. The United States, for example, has already entered into billion-dollar agreements with multiple leading contenders, booked hundreds of millions of doses in advance. This could potentially deprive the other countries, especially in the developing and poor world, from access to vaccines.
New technologies being tried
As they race against time to produce a vaccine, research groups across the world are testing several cutting edge technologies in vaccine development, some of which have never succeeded in delivering a final product. For example, a DNA or RNA-based approach to produce a vaccine has not succeeded till now. But these approaches are being tried out to develop a Coronavirus vaccine, because they are potentially quicker and easier to make.
This is crucial. Vaccine development is a very costly endeavour, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars. In normal times, only big pharmaceutical giants with deep pockets and risk appetite, or institutions with large research grants get into vaccine development.
(Source: WHO Coronavirus vaccine landscape of July 31, 2020)
Compiling by Vietnam Insider’s staff