About 20% of the world’s population has received at least one injection of a Covid-19 vaccine. The speed at which the remaining 80 percent are vaccinated will make the difference between life and death for a staggering number of people – possibly millions.
The race to immunize the world will be a major topic at the meeting of the G7 nations which begins today in England. G7 countries – the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy – increasingly have Covid under control within their own borders. But the pandemic remains an urgent threat across much of Latin America and parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. (Here is a map showing the number of cases in each country.)
In a speech yesterday in England, President Biden cited “our humanitarian obligation” as he announced that the United States would buy 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine and give them to the poorest countries. G7 leaders are expected to announce today that they will collectively donate 1 billion snapshots by the end of next year.
After Biden’s speech, Natalie Quillian, the deputy coordinator of his Covid response, told us: “We are acting with the same urgency and applying the same whole-of-government approach that we have applied here at the national level. “
But these donations still leave the world a long way from having enough doses anytime soon. In total, at least 10 billion more catches are probably needed.
Here are the big questions about what happens next.
Who will pay?
Money is not the main problem. Each additional dose will likely cost $ 5-7. (The Biden administration pays around $ 7 per dose for the Pfizer injections it gives.)
In total, a campaign to immunize the rest of the world – at a cost of $ 50 to $ 70 billion – would represent less than 1% of global economic output this year. “The costs of being in this pandemic are so enormous,” Rachel Silverman of the Center for Global Development told us. “It will be the best deal in history if for $ 50 billion to $ 70 billion we can immunize the world and get out of this crisis.”
The cost is low enough that the poorest countries can afford to cover much of it on their own. But it represents such a tiny slice of the budgets of rich countries that many experts have called on the G7 to take the lead. The International Monetary Fund has suggested using grants from rich countries, non-governmental agencies and charities.
What about excessive doses?
A useful source of doses will be those that American and European countries have ordered and do not need. They bought these doses in part as an insurance policy against certain vaccines that don’t work. But with Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca all proving to be very effective, rich countries will ultimately have more doses than they need for their own populations.
How to speed up production?
The next crucial step will be the production of vaccines. The world already appears to be on the verge of manufacturing enough doses by the end of next year, but it would be too slow to prevent many deaths.
G7 countries can speed up production by pushing for the removal of trade barriers that disrupt the flow of vaccine supplies (such as glass vials), argue Prashant Yadav and Rebecca Weintraub in the Harvard Business Review. Political leaders can also make it clear that they are ready to help pharmaceutical companies solve any logistical problem. “Part of that is calling the CEO every day and saying, ‘Hey, where are you at identifying new manufacturing sites? What do you need from us? ‘ Silverman said.
As a further step, the Biden administration has requested the lifting of patent protections for Covid vaccines in order to increase the number of companies that can manufacture them. But some experts doubt that the waivers do much to increase supply, given the complexity of vaccine manufacturing.
One point to keep in mind: not all vaccines are created equal. Sinovac – a vaccine made in China that has been given to people in 30 countries – appears to be significantly less effective. Cases continued to rise in Latin America in part because of Sinovac’s flaws.
The bottom line
Between seven million and 13 million people have died from Covid, according to an analysis by The Economist magazine. The pace has also accelerated: more people have already died in 2021 than in 2020.
A rapid global vaccination program – combined with natural immunity in people who have previously had Covid – could create the same virtuous cycle that is underway in the United States, Britain and other countries: a drop in case feeds on itself, as there are fewer infected people capable of transmitting the virus to others. And by prioritizing the elderly for injections, countries can bring down deaths even more sharply than cases.
Most of the world, however, falls short of this result.
Learn more about the virus: A profile of Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Biden CDC.
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