Some of COVID-19 Vaccines Manufacturers Photo: AzBio.Org

How vaccine nationalism, internal criticisms keep world’s poor countries waiting for shots

*Vaccine diplomacy, domestic criticisms, and increased demand for COVID-19 Vaccines have been cited as reasons for recent limited supplies by major supplier Serum, as developing countries have received only fractions of their allocations

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

The fast growing COVID-19 oriented vaccine nationalism in major producers like India is said to be hitting the world’s most disadvantaged nations the hardest.

The development is somewhat leaving such disadvantaged regions of the global community stranded while waiting for millions of doses promised through a World Health Organisation (WHO)-backed immunisation initiative.

It was gathered that the plans to keep more vaccine supply for domestic use are exacerbating what the WHO’s Head recently described as a “grotesque” supply chasm between rich and poor nations, dealing another blow to the prospect of global solidarity in fighting and defeating the disruptive novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in record time.

The world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, India’s Serum Institute, is a key supplier to Covax, a programme through which 2 billion vaccine doses are supposed to be distributed to middle and low-income countries, many of which have no ability to sign procurement contracts on their own.

These plans are now threatened by India’s decision to pare back shipments so that more supply can be kept for domestic use as a new wave of infections emerges and the government expands inoculation to all aged 45 years and above.

It was learnt that Serum’s emergency licence granted early January 2021 does not allow it to fulfill export orders without a nod from New Delhi, in India, Bloomberg report said.

Certain developing nations from Kenya to Brazil, where deaths reportedly surged past 300,000 recently have been left waiting for doses after only a fraction of those promised have been received, according to data from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, one of WHO’s Covax partners.

The shortfalls are mainly of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine, which Serum makes, not other vaccines ordered by Covax, such as the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE one, as Gavi’s data have shown, according to report.

Endless waiting for COVID-19 Vaccines in Ghana, Nigeria, others

Report indicates that several developing countries have received only a fraction of doses promised through Covax.

ConsumerConnect had reported that after much expectation of the vaccine shots for immunisation against the damaging Coronavirus disease, Nigeria last month finally received its first batch of the promised COVID-19 Vaccines, with the supply of about four million doses of the Vaccines through the Covax facility.

The NAFDAC-approved AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine had arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, in Abuja, FCT, before 12 noon Tuesday, March 1, 2021, through Emirates Airlines aircraft.

Nigeria receives 3.92 million doses as first batch of AStraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine from Covax facility, in Abuja, FCT           Photo: Channels TV

Mr. Bashir Ahmad, a presidential aide also confirmed this in a tweet Tuesday via his official Twitter handle that the drugs came into the country through the Abuja Airport at about 11:46a.m.

Ahamd disclosed that “the first batch of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines has arrived Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.”

The country’s top government officials, including Mr. Boss Mustapha, Chairman of Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Honourable Minister for Health; Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister for Information and Culture; and Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were all on the ground at the airport to take delivery of the vaccine consignment.

According to the country’s Chairman of PTF on COVID-19, the vaccine allocations through the Covax facility are “at no financial cost” to Nigeria, but noted the batch is courtesy of the corporate facility.

However, most of Covax’s initial allocations of the BioNTech-Pfizer SE shots have been received by countries, the data showed though not many developing nations across the can handle their mRNA vaccines, in view of the deep freeze logistical requirements.

India’s pivot mirrors the European Union’s (EU) consideration of controversial restrictions in response to criticism of its chaotic, slow immunisation campaign.

Both places were reported to have exported more vaccine shots than they have administered at home, and are now coming under domestic pressure as infections surge again.

Nonetheless, the EU has pledged that its new rules will not affect Covax shipments to the world’s most disadvantaged and developing countries, report stated.

As regards the continuing waiting game with vaccine supplies to such disadvantaged regions of the global community, Fiona Russell, Principal Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne and group leader for Asia-Pacific health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, submitted that hope for vaccine equality and solidarity is imploding.

Russell noted: “We’ve seen that already because it’s being sucked up by Europe and now India and the US, so the supply to the rest of the world does not go anywhere. It is a huge issue.”

It was also gathered that in recent months, India has attempted to polish its global image through vaccine diplomacy, challenging China for political influence across the developing world.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s Foreign Minister, touted friendship and solidarity through “Made in India” vaccines arriving in countries from Bolivia to South Sudan to the Solomon Islands, agency report said.

Nevertheless, after the country shipped or donated more than 60 million doses of COVID-19 Vaccine, India’s exports have slowed to a trickle.

Growing criticism of the speed of its own immunisation campaign and a fivefold increase in new virus infections over the past month spurred the change, according to government officials who sought anonymity.

Shahid Jameel, Director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at India’s Ashoka University, said: “Both these things are linked. At a time that a surge is happening in India, there is pressure on the government.”

Incidentally, Gavi said recently disclosed that increased demand for COVID-19 Vaccines from India was behind delays in authorising further export licences from its main supplier, Serum.

A Gavi representative said: “Covax is in talks with the government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible.”

However, India’s Health Ministry was said to have declined to comment on the development through a spokesperson, report noted.

Stance of US, Mexico on vaccine supplies

A domestic-focused stance is evident in the world’s most powerful economies, and there are signs that vaccine diplomacy is being used to achieve government aims in this regard.

The United States (US) has ordered almost enough shots to inoculate every American adult twice, and it’s still adding to its coffers, reports Bloomberg.

While there is no restriction against exporting shots made in the US, the vaccine companies are required to fulfill their contractual obligations first, President Joe Biden administration’s officials have said.

Earlier March this year, the US said it planned to send four million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine to Mexico and Canada, potentially its first exports since at the start of vaccine production and subsequent vaccinations in the country.

The deal, which would send 2.5 million doses to Mexico, report stated, was floated at the same time the Mexican Government agreed to crack down on the flow of migrants north through the country and to the US, where a humanitarian crisis continues to brew on the border.

Jaspreet Pannu, a resident physician and global health/biosecurity researcher at Stanford University Department of Medicine, in the US, said: “Every government is accountable to its own citizens.

“It’s very difficult for national governments to keep the global good as their main priority.

“It’s very tempting for national governments to break off on their own because of the ways the incentives align.”

Are there enough virus vaccines for inoculations?

Ever since Ghana became the first country to take delivery of 600,000 Covax-supplied shots February 2021, the programme has distributed more than 32 million doses to 60 countries, but officials said that supply limitations are yet holding it back.

COVID-19 vaccination

Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, at a news conference Monday, March 22, specifically identifying Serum and AstraZeneca as the holdups, stated that “the problem we have quite frankly, is we cannot get enough vaccines.

“Right now the manufacturers are unable to keep up with our orders.”

Now, Covax’s troubles have left developing countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and others, some of which received fractions of volumes originally promised them were relying completely on the initiative to access immunisations for hundreds of millions of their populations, are reportedly at a loss and scrambling to secure orders on their own.

It was learnt that India’s neighbour Pakistan, was in line for 45 million doses through Covax facility.

Asad Umar, Pakistani Planning Minister, recently noted that the first shipment, due in March 2021, has now been delayed indefinitely.

Vietnam, which had been promised 1.37 million doses March 25, will now get 811,200 in three weeks’ time, said local UNICEF representative Rana Flowers.

These shortfalls come despite the fact that globally, supply is relatively abundant. Production from 13 vaccine makers could rise to 12 billion doses by the end of the year, according to a study from the Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Centre.

That would be enough to inoculate 70 percent of the world if distributed equally, an aim that the WHO is now struggling to achieve, report said.

Andrea Taylor, who leads COVID-19 research at Duke’s Global Health Institute, said: “There is such an urgent need for more balanced access to vaccines.

“We can’t allow a significant portion of the world to wait six months or a year or more to get vaccinated.

“It just gives the virus more opportunities to evolve in ways that could greatly prolong the pandemic for everyone.”

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