COVID-19 vaccine distribution to 7.8 billion people; How big is the challenge?

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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COVID-19 Vaccine
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The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in 2019, since then the researchers around the globe are in an expedition to develop the vaccine against it and by this time they have overcome challenges that normally expands such projects over years.

Assuming some of the experimental shots proves safe and effective, then the next biggest challenge that the health officials and drug companies are about to confront is delivering the vaccines across the nook and corner of the globe. Preparations for vaccinating the planet’s 7.8 billion people are already underway.

Getting the Green Light

In normal cases, it takes a lot of time and thousands of volunteer trials before the permission to be used publicly is given. China and Russia have used special regulatory provisions to deploy vaccines before completing efficacy tests. But the leading nine vaccine research companies of the US and Europe pledged not to take any shortcuts. It can take about one year for the Food and Drug Administration in the US to proceed with the approval of a vaccine after completing trials. But considering the current situation, the UK government and European Medicines Agency (EMA) has set up a fast-track approval option. 

Production Hurdles

It takes about thousands of vaccine shots just to complete the required trials before getting approval. As the vaccine can’t be stored in normal condition, ensuring the production and supply of special glass vials to store the shots is a huge task when coming to the production stage. As each vaccine is developed with different procedures the expectation is to mass-produce any vaccine that gets approval first. The US authorities have already started to stockpile the doses of their experimental vaccines with the support of government funding, in a strong belief to get approval for one or more.  

Transport and storage

According to estimations, it would take about 8,000 cargo planes to distribute single-dose shots to the world population. As per the supply specialist at UNESCO, Gian Gandhi the current scale and speed plans for mass dispatching of vaccine is unparalleled. Another hurdle that comes in the way is the vaccines need to be stored in the refrigerator while some COVID-19 shots must be kept in a temperature of minus 80 degree Celsius.

Double-shot challenge

Most of the vaccine candidates in development are two-shots which means double the trouble. The manufacturing, refrigerating and delivering challenge is double and twice the need for syringes. Another issue is some people hesitate to return for a second shot, so the health authorities would have to make sure that people are properly inoculated against the virus. Johnson & Johnson and rival Merck & Co. are developing one-shot vaccines. 

Funding 

The poor countries are likely to be struck by insufficient funds risk when compared to the wealthy side, of which many has already have entered into agreements for mass production and distribution. The Gavi by Bill Gates and Melinda Foundation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization has developed a program named COVAX with a target to ensure that vaccines are distributed equitably around the globe and both the rich and poor countries get supplies at the same time. The countries will also have to manage the fund for proper distribution of the vaccine. As per the US estimations around $6 billion additional funds is needed to prepare for the roll-out.

Security concerns

Due to the high demand and limited supply, smuggling and illegal diversions of vaccine is also likely. The UNICEF has already warned to ensure novel packaging and technology including bar codes to track the vaccine in transits. The US has already witnessed criminal groups circulating mislabeled and unauthorized COVID-19 products, including personal protective equipment and test kits.  

Vaccine hesitancy

Even though the health experts see the vaccine as the sole way to get the world out of the pandemic, a notable percentage of the world population is still showing distrust over the vaccine due to a belief that the vaccine can cause some risks in future.

In a survey conducted in August, about a third of Americans said that they wouldn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine. One out of six among the UK citizens said they definitely or probably wouldn’t take shots in a June survey. A vaccine rollout can stop a virus from circulating by establishing so-called herd immunity. It’s reached when a significant percentage of the community has developed immunity by getting infected or getting a vaccine. For COVID-19, the percentage is estimated to range from 55% to 82%.


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