Vaccine shortfall

Published April 19, 2021

THE hope that the slew of Covid-19 vaccinations approved for use since the end of last year would vanquish the virus, or at least drastically curb infection levels, is dissipating very fast. Many countries are struggling with their third or fourth wave, more devastating than the last. The global death toll has crossed 3m even if the mortality rate has come down overall, because of improved medical protocols as health professionals gain experience of treating the disease. However, the rate of infection is rising faster than before. The inequitable availability of resources among nations in ‘normal’ times is reflected during this global health emergency as well. Poorer countries have far less access to vaccines than others, and, coupled with the fact that their health facilities are similarly inadequate, their populations are more likely to suffer serious and long-term effects of the contagion. Covax, the WHO’s global shared vaccine programme which aims to make vaccines available to countries that cannot afford the kind of financial outlay required to make successful bids for scarce supplies, is falling behind. Consider that within the period of a fortnight only 2m doses were cleared for shipment to 92 countries under the programme; during that time, the same number of vaccinations had been administered in the UK alone.

Uninterrupted supplies under Covax to around a third of the world population were largely dependent on India which has the world’s largest vaccine-manufacturing capacity. However, in yet another illustration of the interconnectedness of the world in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, the frightening surge of cases in India has thrown a spanner in the works. As it tries to ramp up its own inoculation programme for its massive population, India’s vaccine production cannot keep pace. The country is now actually planning to import vaccines to meet the shortfall. That is worrying news for countries that were looking to Covax to meet their requirements. And that includes Pakistan. This country, along with Nigeria and Indonesia were slated to be among the biggest recipients of vaccines under Covax. It was announced in early March that 10m doses were to arrive in each country before June. Whether anything close to that figure materialises remains to be seen.

Countries that do have an adequate supply of vaccines and a population largely amenable to getting inoculated are sprinting ahead of many others. For example, in the UK over 32m have received at least one dose and some of the restrictions in that country have been eased after months. In Pakistan though, as in many other places, the UK variant is raging with the ‘peak’ nowhere in sight. Last week, the WHO warned that South Asia is at a “critical phase”. Without a collective response to a global emergency of this nature, where wealthier nations look out for those less fortunate, one wonders how far it is possible to defeat the virus.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2021

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