When will there be a Covid-19 vaccine in Zambia? This year has become synonymous with the pandemic and with Pfizer’s reported breakthrough we began to see the end of the tunnel, the potential return back to life before the virus.
However, a study into the history of mass vaccinations indicates people in developing countries may have to wait longer to access the vaccine. This article looks to examine the claims about the potential vaccines announced by three leading pharmaceutical companies to create a timeline for the release of a vaccine in Zambia.
Rules and Regulations – Will the Vaccine be safe?
Each drug or vaccine that is approved for human consumption must go through the highest degree of scrutiny. Each country has their own drug commision which in turn has different rules; the Russian vaccine for example, has claimed a 95% effectiveness and was approved by the local authority two months ago. India has ordered 100 million vials of this ‘Sputnik Vaccine’ while Western countries have completely dismissed it as a fraud. Traditionally regulators such as the Federal Drug Authority of America (FDA) take 5-7 years of research before approving a vaccine. The UN which distributes more than 2 billion doses of 25 different vaccinations to more than 100 developing countries annually usually adds an additional 6 years before officially recommending and purchasing the vaccine. Zambia is one of the 100 countries which is assisted by the UN, it is therefore worth noting the timelines for the COVID-19 vaccine are currently being rushed at the risk of failure. The FDA and other regulators have a long history of wrongful approvals that have caused illness, disabilities and in some cases death.
The fear of vaccines (or Vaccine Hesitancy) is a semi-popular movement which gained traction last year as more people in the US began to claim defects in their children directly associated with taking a vaccine dosage. It is estimated to have a following of 7-8 million people who have claimed that vaccines are inherently dangerous. While the majority of this is based on fabricated evidence we must note, not all vaccines are safe or made by conventional methods. The Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine for example is transmitted as a disease native to monkeys that has been modified to combat COVID cells. The potential effects of this influenza are predicted to be minimal but some things can only be uncovered with a lengthy investigation process. While there are many potential hazards associated with the vaccine, the involvement of modern technology will likely ensure there are no catastrophic after effects meaning this is only something that can be assessed more as we learn more about the vaccines.
The Issue of Accessibility – Will it be free?
Profit motive is one of the ugliest features of the conventionally selfish pharmaceutical industry, nonetheless the winner of the vaccine race is expected to make US$13B in profit. Traditionally lower-income countries have been actively avoided by large pharmaceutical companies due to a lack of revenue. A study showed that while 85% of the demand for vaccines is in developing countries, only 18% of total sales goes towards those governments. The UN is normally tasked with the purchase of vaccine doses on behalf of them instead. However, the last mass distribution of a vaccine (IPV Polio Vaccine, 2013-15) took more than 2 years to distribute and the appointed suppliers only managed to meet 50% of the demand. Nevertheless the most promising proposition of a free vaccine has been the most recent breakthrough, a vaccine produced through a collaboration with Oxford University and Astrazeneca. The project has promised to make the vaccine accessible to all by foregoing a profit until the majority of the world has been immunized. Unlike the Moderna/Pfizer vaccines it can be stored in normal temperatures. This makes it the most affordable even though it is the least effective (70% efficiency on a dataset of 30,000).
It is unlikely however, due to the significantly lower efficiency that this vaccine will be mass produced. Comparatively some of the vaccines come with complications which make it risky as they are expensive to store. The Pfizer vaccine reportedly needs to be stored in conditions of “ -70° C for up to 10 days unopened”, this usually requires a rare refrigerator which usually costs around US$20k per machine. In order to transport the doses Pfizer has created a shipping container which requires ‘regular refills of dry ice’ to keep the doses clean. Similarly the Moderna vaccine needs to be stored in -20° C. With the technology currently available to us it is doubtful we will be able to maintain this temperature properly, both vaccines need to be stored for at least 6 months or they become ineffective. Considering the estimated cost of this process and our country’s current debt situation it is unlikely we can afford a vaccine anytime soon without assistance. We have to because these vaccines will be the easiest to scale,meaning the most likely to meet the demand. The Pfizer vaccine department already produces 1 billion sterile doses annually and has promised to scale to meet the global demand. Moderna was selected early by the Centre for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) as an official partner and has already agreed to produce 100 million vaccine doses for the US government.
The Timeline – when can we expect it
According to a report by Spring News, the Ministry of Health has stated they are expecting to receive their first doses in the first quarter of 2021. The first vaccine to be announced was the collaborative effort by Pfizer (American Pharmaceutical company) and BioNTech (a German bio lab specializing in the development of vaccinations) and could be the assumed front runner. The company has applied for FDA approval with their dataset of 44,000 patients and an effectiveness rate of 95%. The market reacted bullishly to this news with Pfizer shares up more than 60% from 2020 bottom to around US$37 a share. The FDA is estimated to make their announcement on this vaccine within two weeks. Comparatively the British regulator is expected to announce their decision on the data by next week. The likely result will be full production by Q2-Q3 2021 earliest but limited distribution. Professor Mulenga, the Director of Infectious Diseases hospital has stated they are expecting to have 20% of the population vaccinated within the first quarter. It can therefore be concluded the process of full immunization could take up to 3-12 months due to the significant amount of public interest and the potential overlap with our elections next year.
Original article on Financial Insight Zambia