Vaccination of the fittest

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By mid-April, countries around the world administered almost 900 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines. Just a year earlier, confirmed cases of the new disease had risen to one million globally. The rapid vaccination programme is an incredible achievement, reaching roughly twelve per cent of the worldwide population. 

But a closer look at figures reveals a glaring disparity between richer and poorer economies. More than eight in every ten jabs have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income nations, while most low-income countries have not even started their vaccination processes. 

To date, eleven vaccines are being used by different governments, with those developed by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Oxford- AstraZeneca emerging as the most popular. At the beginning of the year, things looked like they were going according to plan. That did not last long. 

While countries compete for doses and threaten each other with halting of material supplies, medical issues traced to the jabs are raising levels of vaccine scepticism among citizens. 

European nations have fallen behind the UK and the US in their vaccination campaigns as member states vent frustration with an EU testing and procurement process that was meant to facilitate distribution. The European Commission has publicly rebuked AstraZeneca for failing to honour its supply commitments after the company slashed its deliveries by half and effectively pulling the brakes on vaccination in the bloc. 

The pharmaceutical giant came under intense scrutiny following reports linking its vaccine to cases of cerebral blood clots. National health authorities went their independent ways, some suspending the roll-out altogether, some excluding entire cohorts of the populations, and others steaming ahead with their original plans. The chaos opened the floodgates to a deluge of misinformation. 

The blood-clot panic spread to Moderna and Pfizer, too. In a separate incident, the latter walked into a heated dispute with the leaders of the world’s most successful vaccination programme: Israel. The American company withheld a shipment of filled vials, accusing the country of failing to pay for a previous order of 2.5 million doses. Opposition leaders in the country, meanwhile, allege that the government has paid higher prices for Pfizer vaccines than other countries. 

Moderna also cut deliveries to the US, Canada, and the UK, practically half its market in terms of size, as issues continue to crop up along the supply chain. The company’s Swiss-based manufacturing partner is struggling to keep up with production capacity while pressure on its Massachusetts plant is piling following the halting of Johnson and Johnson vaccines by US states. 

Populations can ill-afford delays, but lower-income countries have much less room for manoeuvre than richer economies. In March, the World Health Organisation informed nations participating in the Covax project that consignments of doses had to be postponed. It was forced to issue a similar notification in April. 

The UN-backed project is now asking high-income nations to donate millions of doses to compensate for the critical shortfall. World leaders have frequently repeated the mantra that no country is safe until every country is safe, but in such a volatile environment, governments probably fear their constituents more than the virus.

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