With the first Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine having been administered in the United Kingdom (UK) to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, the entire world now anxiously awaits for the global roll-out of vaccines, with the need to address the daunting task of ensuring safe, sustainable and inclusive distribution with priority being given to frontline health workers, highest-risk groups and gradually for all populations around the world. The UK has bought 40 million doses of the vaccine with an aim to improve vaccine capacity. US and Europe have followed suit and it is conjectured that the first wave will be able to vaccinate 400,000 individuals falling in the highest-risk group.
Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission Chief of the European Union, has asserted that the bloc, being home to 450 million people, will begin vaccination on the December 27, 2020. It is speculated that 6-7 billion doses shipped at their earliest will be able to achieve the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) minimum target of 20% immunisation. COVAX, a global Covid-19 vaccination allocation plan, led by the WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI), has 92 nations committed to ensuring that vaccine shots are fairly distributed among the global population and that national governments are discouraged from hoarding the vaccine. Roughly put, the first wave of vaccines for these countries is representative of two-three times the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) programme of conducting annual routine vaccination.
The richer nations forming a part of COVAX are committed to financing the vaccine for the poorer nations so that an equitable distribution is achieved. With countries like Japan, Germany and Norway having joined the COVAX scheme, the US has rejected to partake in this venture, primarily because of the disapproval of Trump’s administration of the WHO’s involvement in the scheme.
At this point in time, with the world having suffered from the vagaries and the unprecedented magnitude of this pandemic, the need to address vaccine dissemination challenges and to undertake collective action is of utmost importance. For this, organisations, governments and industries must unite to make concerted efforts to ensure that the life of normalcy is gradually returned to. This can only be done if the vaccine is distributed efficiently, safely and without any discrimination. According to the Global Express Association, product integrity is vital for the efficient dissemination of the vaccine, with the WHO and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) providing comprehensive information and classification of the vaccines.
Furthermore, governments must also make concerted efforts to ensure that vaccine transition from one country to the next is done as smoothly as possible and that the regulatory requirements are adequately adapted to. Temperature-controlled facilities, with some vaccines requiring temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius, need to be established for adequate storage. Because of these requirements of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, it will mostly be applied within Europe, North America and Japan where these cold supply chain facilities can be established.
In essence, stakeholder cooperation and management, especially among regulators, customs authorities, the private sector and the pharmaceutical sector, is crucial for addressing deployment challenges and for the smooth and hassle-free distribution of the vaccine. The coming few weeks will provide testimony to whether this can possibly be achieved. For now, it is best to remain cautiously optimistic and to hope that the vaccine will reach the global masses in a safe and equitable manner.