Poorer nations face vaccine wait as West locks down supply

PARIS (AFP) – Hailed this week as a pandemic game-changer, the new COVID-19 vaccine offered countries that had pre-ordered doses a potential escape from a cycle of lockdowns and new waves of sickness and death.

But while richer nations plan their vaccination programmes through the end of 2021, experts warn that poorer and developing countries face hurdles that could deny billions the first proven protection against the coronavirus.

Vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech plan to roll out the first doses within weeks, once they receive emergency use permissions from drug agencies.

They expect to have 1.3 billion doses ready next year.

The results of phase three clinical trials showed their mRNA vaccine was 90 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms and did not produce adverse side effects among thousands of volunteers.

At the cost of USD40 per treatment, which consists of two separate shots, richer nations have rushed to order tens of millions of doses. But it is less clear what poorer nations can expect.

“If we only have the Pfizer vaccine and everyone needs two doses, clearly that’s a difficult ethical dilemma,” Director Trudie Lang of The Global Health Network at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, told AFP.

Anticipating the outsize demand for any approved vaccine, the World Health Organization formed the COVAX facility in April to ensure equitable distribution.

COVAX brought together governments, scientists, civil society and the private sector – though Pfizer is not currently part of the facility.

Who will be the first to get COVID-19 vaccines? PHOTO: AP