Doctors, nurses, and some other populations are already being vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States and the United Kingdom. Europe may begin to vaccinate against the coronavirus as early as December 27. But in Asia, where several countries have shown effective results in containing the viral disease, there are few signs that vaccine distribution plans are ready for implementation. Governments must work out the details of the vaccine distribution process in order for the vaccination campaign to succeed, Bloomberg writes.
However, in most cases, the ability of national governments to distribute the vaccine is limited. Some countries have signed vaccine procurement plans with manufacturers. Others are working on their own options for getting the vaccine. But everywhere, the need to maintain optimal temperatures for vaccine storage raises difficult issues, such as cold storage and timely delivery.
US-based McKinsey & Co. states that only 1% of existing vaccine distribution networks are set up with the necessary storage requirements to ensure COVID-19 vaccine viability. Most low- and middle-income countries cannot afford to invest in infrastructure for such a short period of time. Many may have to borrow funds from multilateral organizations such as the World Bank. This means limited funding and only one chance to get a vaccination program off the ground correctly.
How are national governments preparing? Most use immunization plans from previous vaccination campaigns. Traditional immunization plans tend to focus on pregnant women and children who are not at the top of the vaccination list during a coronavirus pandemic. India’s universal immunization program covers 26 million infants and 29 million mothers annually and is the largest in the world, but even it is imperfect and not suitable for a coronavirus pandemic.
Andrea Taylor of Duke University’s Global Health Institute says plans to distribute the coronavirus vaccine will be based on several scenarios, and the main focus will be on compliance with vaccine storage conditions. Most middle-income and poor countries have ruled out vaccines that require too “cold” storage conditions. After all, thermostable vaccines may be a better option.
Vaccine introduction has always been more problematic in non-wealthy countries. Nearly two decades after the hepatitis B vaccine was released, the vaccination rate was about 90% in America and only 28% in Southeast Asia, where the disease is much more of a problem.
South Korea’s experience with its campaign to vaccinate 30 million people against influenza shows that there are always mistakes, even in countries with well-formed plans. The government recalled more than one million doses of vaccine after pictures of vaccine boxes left in parking lots circulated online. Health officials said they found no direct causal link between the flu vaccine and the deaths of more than a hundred people who died after receiving the vaccine. But public panic led to only 19 million people getting vaccinated. Singapore was forced to halt its mass flu vaccination campaign.
South Korea has been a global role model for its contact tracing and testing mechanisms to detect COVID-19 cases, but now the country is facing a new surge of the disease.
Prime Minister Chung Se-kyung says the government will develop a plan to ensure that the population is successfully vaccinated. The country also says it will buy vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc, Moderna Inc., Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. But the health secretary says not to rush until all the risks have been considered.
That’s a fair concern. But COVID-19 does not allow for a typical vaccine manufacturing supply chain.
“We can’t afford a consistent process. We have to start production facilities today, and the problem is that they require a significant investment,” says David Simchi-Levy, director of the MIT Data Science Laboratory.
The question arises as to how to properly supply the vaccine.
Vaccine supply resembles trade policy-approvals, customs duties, tariffs, certifications, approvals. A 2017 Asian Development Bank study found that getting the supply chain right increases immunization rates, especially in low-income countries.
A look at the nearly $50 billion drug trade globally shows why the process is not so simple. Some regulations seem absurd in times of a global pandemic.
In May, Canada invested more than $40 million to upgrade its vaccine production facility in Montreal to “ensure that potential vaccine candidates are ready for bioprocessing as they become available.” By November, 250,000 doses were expected to be produced. Then the partnership with China’s CanSino Biologics Inc. fell apart as Chinese customs authorities detained the first shipment of test doses to Canada.
Without a timely and direct way to get the vaccine, COVID-19 will not be destroyed. And the economic recovery is also in jeopardy, the publication concludes.