As we began to glimpse a Covid-free summer in 2021, we received a heavy dose of reality. At the time of the announcement, the British government had failed to procure the vaccine.
There was to be better news by the end of the day – that the UK government had now secured 5 million doses, starting in the spring of 2021. And just two days later, Pfizer announced that its vaccine was even better. effective than he thought, especially protecting the elderly as well as the young.
Every company producing a vaccine has a limited supply, especially at the start. It is quickly caught up, necessarily by the richest countries. So while we may be on the verge of launching a vaccine, many countries have simply been squeezed out.
In the UK we have been extremely lucky – we are the highest per capita buyer of potential doses of Covid-19 vaccine in the world, with access to 10% of the global supply of leading vaccine candidates ( even though we are less than 1% of the world’s population). But for now, it’s a zero-sum game. Each dose we buy means a private dose for another country.
This is a real problem. There are strong humanitarian reasons to ensure that people in the most vulnerable regions of the world are protected against Covid-19. But it’s also a basic science – Covid-19 does not respect global borders. We are not safe until we are all safe.
The problems are not limited to the vaccine supply either. There are huge problems accessing treatment where it is available. The Pfizer vaccine is a good example. As has been well documented, it should be stored in a cold room at -70 degrees Celsius. Matt Hancock said the deployment of the Pfizer vaccine will prove to be a “colossal effort” in the UK, due to the storage challenge. It will therefore be even more difficult to manage in the most vulnerable regions of the world.
The other problem is the cost. Moderna vaccines are priced at $ 50 (£ 38) to $ 60 (£ 45) for a two-course treatment, making vaccinating an entire population an extremely expensive course of action.
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is being produced on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic, meaning countries can get access for $ 3 (£ 2.25) to $ 4 (£ 3) per dose. It’s much more promising – but there are fears that as of July 2021 AstraZeneca will have the ability to start charging whatever it wants for the vaccine, apparently because that’s when it was determined. that we will no longer be at the pandemic stage of the virus. But this is exactly the time when countries that are not the first will seek to acquire doses – and those countries are invariably the ones that do not have the same capacity to pay.
So we need more transparency when it comes to the research and development of Covid-19 – there are clear questions that need to be answered. And we need to start treating Covid-19 treatments like the global public goods that they are. This means that when public funds have been used to finance a vaccine, patents need to be relaxed and technologies need to be made more widely available.
An important step the UK government can take is to commit that if we, as a nation, end up with excess doses of coronavirus, these are diverted to where they are needed most.
Finally, we need increased international cooperation. South Africa and India have proposed to the World Trade Organization to remove all intellectual property monopolies relating to Covid-19 tools, drugs and vaccines. We are in exceptional circumstances – the government must fully engage in these ideas.
This is a global pandemic – now is the time for a truly global effort to eradicate Covid-19.
Wendy Chamberlain is the Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife