Published:  07:29 PM, 24 April 2021 Last Update: 07:35 PM, 24 April 2021

Poor countries need more vaccine

Poor countries need more vaccine

Herd immunity occurs when a large number of people in the community have developed immunity either by getting infected or by being vaccinated, so they are less likely to spread infection. To achieve herd immunity and return to pre-pandemic life, 70% of the population has to be protected against the virus. 

The herd immunity threshold refers to the level of herd immunity needed so that when people return to their normal pre-covid lives, transmission of the virus cannot be sustained. That does not mean that the virus will completely disappear, but it will spread only among certain individuals rather than among the community at large, preventing new outbreaks, said Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 84 of the world’s poorest states won’t get enough vaccines to achieve herd immunity until 2024. This is a shocking injustice. At the same time, billions of people in the world’s poorest countries won’t be able to receive a vaccine this year. The world has begun to distribute Covid vaccines. Rich countries with just 16 per cent of the world’s people have bought up 60 per cent of global vaccine supply.

As a result, while more than 225 million people have already received vaccines across the world, only 0.02% of those people live in sub-Saharan African countries. Almost half of the world’s countries haven’t been able to vaccinate a single person yet. Bangladesh plans to import another 30 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, as the government aims to inoculate more people in its pandemic battle.The government is also trying to find ways to produce vaccines in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said. “I have already ordered the purchase of 30 million more doses.

We are taking steps to ensure that not a single person falls out of the vaccination programme,” she added.Bangladesh is using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India. Serum Institute is scheduled to supply the rest of the doses in monthly installments by June, while Bangladesh is likely to receive 1.25 million doses from World Health Organisation’s COVAX platform in the first half of 2021. Some wealthy countries have even ordered enough doses to vaccinate their populations ten times over.

Canada, with a population of 38 million, has reserved 414 million doses. The EU has secured agreements to vaccinate its population twice over. The wealthiest people can even buy vaccines privately. For €45,000, members of a private club in the UK can travel to Dubai to get a private appointment to get the jab. However, the reality of our unequal world is that these countries will be waiting in line.

Wealthier countries have secured bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies, and having deep pockets means you can get your populations vaccinated first, leaving the poorest countries at the bottom of the queue. Some rich countries are saying that they will share their excess vaccines once they’ve covered their populations. Yet this approach is still deeply unfair – it says to the rest of the world, ‘we’ll cover our people first and then you can have the leftovers when we’re done’. UN Chief Antonio Guterres has recently said that ‘at this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community’.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, has also called the stark inequality a ‘catastrophic moral failure’. “In the absence of high vaccination coverage globally, we risk dragging out the pandemic for several more years,” said Lavanya Vasudevan, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Global Health Institute. “Every day that the virus is in circulation is an opportunity for it to mutate into a more deadly variant.” Earlier this month, the WHO appealed to rich countries to urgently share 10 million doses to meet the U.N. target of starting COVID-19 vaccinations in every country within the first 100 days of the year.

So far, countries have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to COVAX. But there are simply no doses to buy, and no country has agreed to immediately share what it has. According to the International Rescue Committee, COVID-19 cases and deaths last month surged in numerous crisis-hit countries: by 322% in Kenya, 379% in Yemen and 529% in northeast Syria. Brook Baker, a vaccines expert at Northeastern University, said the laudatory message was misplaced. “

Celebrating doses sufficient for only 19 million people, or 0.25% of global population, is tone deaf,” he said, adding it was time for WHO and partners to be more honest with countries. The government has plans to produce the coronavirus vaccine, developed by the UK’s University of Oxford and Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca, in Bangladesh.The local pharmaceutical companies will make the vaccine in their factories if they get the raw materials.

The government is now set to introduce the second doses on Apr 8. But India has put a halt on export of the vaccine in order to strengthen its own vaccination drive, putting Bangladesh’s plans to give more people their first shots into uncertainty. Some local pharmaceutical companies are capable of producing the vaccine, the health minister told

The pharmaceutical companies have asked the government to initiate the process by approaching the bulk or seed vaccine-producing company, said Maleque. "We already wrote to AstraZeneca to give us the raw materials. We told them that we have vaccine-making facilities and can use them. We can even export and meet their demand."

The other part involving biological tests is still awaiting the approval. The government has requested the WHO for a quick approval of the lab section. It is possible to produce the coronavirus vaccine at home and they want to do it, said Abdul Muktadir, managing director of Incepta Pharmaceuticals. Incepta can produce the vaccine if they get the raw materials.

They wrote to Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, he said. “These four companies have the seed and bulk for the vaccine. We are capable of producing vaccines from the seeds, as it is the main material. We wrote to the companies but they haven’t responded.” The vaccine-producing companies must have thought that a few companies will be enough to produce the vaccine meeting the global demand, Muktadir said. “As the global demand rose suddenly, I believe they will need more producers.

Maybe they’ll look for more companies. Let’s see while we keep trying.” Chinese company Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik had proposed to supply vaccines to Bangladesh, said the health minister. As Bangladesh secured the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier, it stopped trying to purchase the Chinese and Russian vaccines. Now it is reconsidering the options of buying Russian and Chinese vaccines. The government is contacting China and Russia for the vaccines as an alternative while continuing its efforts to bring the consignments of vaccines it already bought from Serum.

The government has spoken to the ambassadors of Russia and China and asked them to inform if they can supply the vaccines, Maleque said. The government aims to vaccinate 130 million people or 80 percent of the total population in a bid to prevent the coronavirus infection from spreading. Under the COVAX, Bangladesh would receive 68 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to cater 20 percent of the total population, while the government needs to buy the rest.

Bangladesh signed an agreement in November to buy 30 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum. It is expected to receive five million doses per month under the deal. Accordingly, it received 5 million doses in January, but the consignment dropped to 2 million doses in February when the global demand increased. The Indian government also provided 3.2 million doses of the vaccine as gift.

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