Approved vaccines
Science has already established that safe, effective vaccines are public health game-changers. There are now 22 vaccines approved, as of August 24, 2021, according to a vaccine tracker. Image Credit: Gulf News File

Highlights

  • In public health, the only thing that’s better than vaccines is safe water.
  • Experts, however, say it’s not vaccines that will end the pandemic; rather, it’s vaccination.
  • Many countries are going into vaccine development, there are over 370 corovirus vaccine trials. 
  • However, the world currently faces an immediate and massive challenge to scale up production and distribution as only 1% of people in less-developed countries had been vaccinated.

DUBAI: The most effective way to stop the menace of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, is not vaccines; rather, it’s vaccination, say experts. Science has already established that safe, effective vaccines are now available. In the midst of a pandemic, they're game-changers in public health. Thankfully, there are now 22 vaccines approved, as of August 24, 2021, according to a vaccine tracker. (This article was first published on July 9, 2021, when 19 vaccines were approved by at least one state authority)

The WHO has so far approved 8 vaccines. But production, distribution and inoculation need to be scaled up to arrest COVID’s further spread and, more importantly, curb the emergence of new variants.

Vaccine tracker

The COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker site provides updates about COVID19 vaccine development and approvals worldwide from publicly available data. If the past is any indication, effective vaccines helped the world tackle the threat of pathogens like polio, measles, smallpox, diphtheria, pertussis, rabies. But effective vaccines are needed in huge quantities: numbers involved in COVID-19 are daunting.

How many vaccines does the world need to produce today to reach “herd immunity”?

Some 30.2 million vaccines must be produced daily. That number would enable the world to achieve “herd immunity” — but only in the next 12 months, according to one calculation.

This run rate is the equivalent of producing 349 vaccines per second. If achieved, it will enable the vaccination of at least 70% of the 7.8 billion people on the planet (with a double dose) against COVID-19 in the next 365 days. That’s a huge challenge: A production output of 20,935 vaccines per minute, according to the online “Max Vaccine Immunity Calculator” drawn up by Omni.

How many vaccines are now approved?

As of July 9, 2021, there are at least 19 vaccines approved by at least one country. Many of the shots had been approved by multiple countries and had been proven effective against SARS-CoV-2 and the latest variants of concern.

Vaccine tracker July 9
As of July 9, 2021. There are 22 vaccines approved as of August 24, 2021.
Vaccines tracker
The biostatistics site covid19.trackvaccines.org/ is led by Dr. Nicole E. Basta, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health at Canada’s McGill University. It has funding support from the university’s Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity.

What are the vaccines approved by the WHO?

  • AstraZeneca
  • Pfizer
  • Janssen
  • Moderna
  • AstraZeneca/CoviShield
  • AstraZeneca/AZD1222 (manufactured by the SII and SK Bio)
  • Sinopharm
  • Sinovac

What would it take to increase vaccine volume and supply?

More than 100 countries have called for the temporary suspension of international intellectual intellectual property (IP) rules on COVID-19 countermeasures (including vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other medical equipment). The WHO strongly backs this call.

Vaccine production process 01
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal / Gulf News

The aim is simple: To increase both the volume and the security of the supply, the IP waiver suspension would strengthen legal certainty for producers — allowing them to start manufacturing quickly. This would also expand scientists’ freedom to develop better, more appropriately-adapted vaccines, according to the agency. But the challenge is not just waivers, but manufacrturing hurdles.

And, given the likelihood that coronavirus will be circulating for years to come, experts say a scaled up production would be worthwhile, even if it may take months to bear fruit.

Why is licensing of vaccine manufacturing important?

In short, it’s about revealing the secret sauce of messenger RNA vaccines, which is the exclusive domain of Western companies at the moment — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna/NIH. The US government under the Biden administration, in principle, has agreed to such waivers under the World Trade Organisation process. But any solid deal would take time. The biggest potential advantage of an IP waiver is scaled up production, wider distribution and lower cost of the most effective COVID shots.

Chinese tourists receive free COVID-19 vaccines in Dubai
Experts say it’s not vaccines that will end the pandemic; rather, it’s vaccination. A Chinese tourist receives a free vaccine in Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert / Gulf News

What are some of the examples of global vaccine licensing partnerships?

The AstraZeneca vaccine is one example. It is made by AstraZeneca (as AZD1222), as well as Serum Institute of India (CoviShield), South Korea’s SK Bioscience or Thailand’s Siam Bioscience. AZD1222, was co-invented by the University of Oxford and its spin-off company, Vaccitech.

The UAE is also producing Hayat COVID-19 vaccine under license from China’s Sinopharm CNBG. Public health officials, particularly in less developed economies, have now realised the need to boost and diversify vaccine production capacity — in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

That’s why calls for the technology transfer and ensuring that intellectual property (IP) protections such as patents do not pose legal barriers to mass production are getting stronger.

Stock Vaccine UAE
The UAE is also producing Hayat COVID-19 vaccine under license from China’s Sinopharm CNBG. Public health officials, particularly in less developed economies, have now realised the need to boost and diversify vaccine production capacity — in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

6m

estimated number of deaths prevented from vaccine-preventable diseases annually in 2003

What are the examples of countries ramping up local COVID-19 vaccine production?

In May 2021, the UAE became the first Arab country in the world to produce its own COVID-19 shot. Known as Hayat vaccine, it is the first indigenous coronavirus jab in the region to be manufactured by a joint venture between Abu Dhabi's G42 and Sinopharm.

India, South Korea, Thailand and Morocco are also some of the countries with their own domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity. Israel is also reportedly weighing opening of COVID-19 vaccine production plant, as its government has realised the dramatic effect of the ability to self-produce vaccines.

Bihar vaccine India covid
A medic gives the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to to a woman at a government dispensary in Patna on Monday, April 19, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

What are the known curbs to scaling up vaccine production worldwide?

Restrictions on exports of both raw materials and finished vaccines from key vaccine-producing regions, including the United States, Europe, and India, have exacerbated shortages worldwide and highlighted the risks of relying on just a few manufacturers.

How far are we from vaccinating 70% of the world, enough to achieve “herd immunity”?

In the race against time, there are encouraging signs. But there are also massive challenges in terms of what public health officials call “vaccine equity”. Today, 25% of the world population has already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data, a data analytics company based in the UK which updates its stats daily. However, only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least 1 dose.

3.42b

Number of COVID-19 vaccione doses administered globally as of July 10, 2021

“The impact of vaccination on the health of the world’s peoples is hard to exaggerate. With the exception of safe water, no other modality has had such a major effect on mortality reduction and population growth,” experts wrote in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology on July 14, 2020.

30.35m

number of COVID-19 vaccines administered per day
Kenya covid vaccine
Kenyan tour guide, Daniel Ole Kissipan, receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) under the COVAX scheme, in Nairobi, Kenya, April 27, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

What needs to be done, going forward?

Experts say there’s still much to be done to ensure the financing, provision, distribution, and administration of vaccines to all populations — in particular those which are difficult to reach, including those skeptical about their protective value and those living in civil disruption. This has been demonstrated by the latest coronavirus pandemic.

What are the leading agencies working on making vaccines more equitable?

Agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiative (CEPI), with their multiple funding streams have been instrumental in expanding vaccine access Given the pandemic’s knock-on effect on the economy, the importance of these organisations in the global co-operation and participation was essential in the response to SARS-CoV-2, especially for middle and low-income countries.

1%

of people in low-income countries have received at least 1 dose as of July 10, 2021
Vaccine equity
Vaccine equity is simply defined as access to safe, effective vaccines by everyone, regardless of geographic location. Leading scientists, in an article published July 10, 2021 in the New England Journal of Medicine warned about “gross inequalities” in global access to COVID-19 shots.

They noted the fact that high-income countries — the US and European countries in particular — have secured a majority of the world’s vaccine supply. More than twice the volumes needed to cover their populations had been ring-fenced by developed countries.

Meanwhile, many low-income countries have barely begun the immunisation process, but a very small and slow rate. “It will take political courage to end such vaccine injustice now and political vision to negotiate the binding international rules needed to avert similar inequities in the future,” the scientists wrote in NEJM.

What's  the effect of effective vaccination?

Vaccinations is now seen as the only way out of the pandemic. The science, developing vaccines and measuring their effectiveness, has been established. Scientists now call for near-term situation, by urging countries that share vaccines with those facing shortages, a move that can save the lives of frontline workers and vulnerable groups.

This, they argued, will help end the pandemic and at the same time reduce the risk of emergence of new and dangerous variants, while generating an additional $9 trillion for the global economy with trade, travel, and work fully restored everywhere.