By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
The Corona virus has upended lives globally. Several (more scientifically advanced) countries are working on or already developed a vaccine to combat the virus. The poor countries in the Caribbean and even most in Africa and Latin America don’t have the capacity to produce a vaccine. How will they get it and when? Can they afford it?
They watch and wait in anticipation for the vaccine because they lack resources and capacity to produce one. Few have the resources to pay for the vaccine to inoculate or immunize their population. And fewer have resources or scientific capacity to produce their own vaccine. So inevitably, the poor countries depend on the generosity and goodwill of the more developed countries to get the vaccine from those that manufacture or produce it. Only four countries (UK, USA, Germany, Russia, all White countries) plus China and India have produced or close to producing a vaccine that fights the virus. India manufactures over 60% world’s vaccines, and it has orders to manufacture over three billion of the Covid vaccine. India is overwhelmed with orders but the Indian government says it has instructed manufacturers to expand capacity to save the world from the virus. It is amazing that just decades ago, most of the world shunned or had much positive things to say about India, including almost half Guyanese, and now the world turns to India for a vaccine for survival. India will roll out two vaccines next week to begin immunization of its 1.4 billion people. The Indian government hopes to immunize 300M people by June. Almost 200K medical staff to carry out the immunization program set to being in mid January and a there have been dry runs in several of her 29 states. India also plans to make available vaccine for the world.
How will Guyana or the poor countries get the vaccine? The country can order directly from India but how many vaccines can the Caribbean afford and how many can India supply given the entire world, including the four White countries that discovered a vaccine, is turning to India for orders? Vaccines can also be sourced from China that has rolled out its version, which the developed world has avoided.
The World Health Organization has ordered one billion vaccines, less than a third of what is needed to immunize the population in poor countries with one dose; two doses are needed. It is not reported from which manufacturer (s) WHO ordered and it is not known how they will be distributed. In all likelihood, the WHO ordered vaccines would be distributed to the 92 poor (some 3B excluding India and China) countries proportionally based on population size. The wealthier countries can afford the vaccine for its 1.2 B people. India and China, with 2.9 billion people, wont need WHO vaccine since they are utilizing and paying for their own. Guyana and Trinidad may get just about 50K but need about 2M each. India is likely to facilitate Caribbean’s request for some vaccine but not before March.
And which vaccine should people take or Guyana order? Which is most effective or efficacious? And which has side effects. The side effects of the four vaccines that have been rolled out would not be known until weeks after human immunization. The four ‘White countries’ reported an efficacy of over 90%, meaning it worked to disable or prevent the virus of 90% of those tested in phase three (final) trials. China reported an efficacy of over 70% and Indian trials of phase three so far is over 75%; one is almost 99% though the human trials has been relatively small. A dozen more Indian vaccines are in the pipeline finishing up phase 2 with six close to entering phase 3, or final human trials that would take up to three months of experimentation and studies. India is producing virtually all, over 100m, of the Russian developed vaccine that is also being tested in India. The Indian government funded vaccine development would be the cheapest (about $3) and the Indian government under Prime Minister Modi has committed to making its government funded vaccines available to the world with priority given to its South Asian neighbors. The Modi government says it would work with governments around the world to make available vaccines developed or produced in India.
Caribbean, Latino, and African countries have no vaccine choice since they can’t one anytime soon. They will have to take what is available. But drug manufacturers in rich countries could hoard supplies, leaving poorer nations vulnerable. They would be better off courting India and China. The latter has been donating vaccines to several friendly countries including Indonesia, and some Asian and Arabic countries have ordered the Chinese vaccine. European countries have not ordered the Chinese vaccine, preferring the American or German or British or vaccine for reasons they wont divulge. The Caribbean should study all the possibilities of efficacy and follow the advice of WHO on vaccine procurement and or court India for guaranteed supplies.
The views expressed in these articles are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.