The zero-sum vaccine game: How a dose in the U.S. takes a dose away from a poorer country
Not to mention Canada…
I thought that today’s analysis by Adam Taylor in the Washington Post made some interesting points, which I summarize here. Please look at the original article for more complete information.
“But most countries have yet to see the benefits of this accomplishment. Months into the global vaccine rollout, the pace remains staggeringly unequal, with wealthy countries leaving poorer ones in the dust. And the success of the former has come very much at the expense of the latter.
“It remains to a large degree a zero-sum game, which means that every dose that goes to the U.S. or the U.K. or an E.U. country is a dose that’s off the shelves, and the shelves aren’t going to be restocked for a while,” said Andrea Taylor, a researcher at Duke University.
“The zero-sum nature of vaccine supply is rooted in a wide variety of factors, but boils down to the simple fact that manufacturers cannot yet meet demand. The potential consequences are wide-ranging. Unmitigated spread in any country, rich or poor, can lead to variants that may be more virulent or resistant to vaccines. This is already happening.
“Thus delayed introduction of vaccines in poorer countries is likely to lead to a longer pandemic, with a deadlier human toll and more long-lasting economic damage.
“The first focus should not be on getting an entire country vaccinated, but on working to vaccinate the people who are most at risk around the world. “It is not unfair that countries vaccinate their population — they definitely have to meet local demand and open local economies,” Sgaier wrote in an email. “But once each country reaches a threshold (e.g. age and risk groups), there should be some sharing.”
But this is not happening. “Hanekom said many nations failed to see that vaccination is a fundamentally global issue. “Thinking that we can protect our own population, when others are not protected? There’s incredible risk with that approach,” he said.
“Some countries have ordered more doses than they need to reach full vaccination. By the end of January, Canada had arranged deals to acquire 338 million doses for its population of 38 million — giving it the potential for 500 percent coverage, according to Taylor’s team at Duke.
“Covax announced last week that it plans to distribute 330 million doses to poorer countries in the first half of the year, but that remains a fraction of the total number required. At the same time, wealthy nations with their own supply of vaccines, including Canada, are set to receive doses through Covax.
“The effects of and solutions for vaccine inequality are not clear-cut. Canadian officials last week defended their decision to accept 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by summer through Covax, arguing that their responsibility was to their citizens first and foremost. Officials told The Washington Post in December that Canada would donate excess doses, but have not given a firm time frame….
“The redistribution of doses to the world’s most vulnerable could help avert a steep human toll, buying manufactures more time to meet global demand — which they might, in theory, by next year, Taylor said. But the very nature of the virus means any timeline could change.
“It may well be shifting under our feet. WHO officials suggested this week that the prevalence of virus variants may necessitate annual vaccinations or booster shots. “That would completely change the picture. It blows everything out of the water,” said Taylor. “And I think it’s where we’re heading.”