We’ve only reached the ‘base camp’

Rachel More and Albert Otti –

Many families across the globe will spend the 2020 festive season hoping that next year will be different. Countries across Europe have returned to varying degrees of lockdown in response to a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Cases have surged in the United States in recent weeks. But a ray of hope is on the horizon: COVID-19 vaccines. The numbers are encouraging, with drugs developed by US biotechnology company Moderna and the BioNTech/Pfizer partnership promising protection of 90 per cent and upwards, while a vaccine developed by British-Swedish pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca boasts at least 70-per-cent efficacy.
Even as regulators one by one give the go-ahead for vaccination, the logistical feat of administering the drugs is an uphill battle, as Kate O’Brien, the World Health Organization’s chief immunisation expert, explained at a recent briefing.
“Getting to vaccine efficacy is like building base camp at Everest, but the climb to the peak is really about delivering the vaccines,” she said. “I think we’re looking at at least the first half of next year as being a period of very, very limited doses. Supplies are going to be limited,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.
Orders were already coming in long before the first regulators gave the vaccines their stamp of approval. The European Commission alone has arranged for the purchase of hundreds of millions of doses from vaccine developers. But not everyone will get hold of the vaccine at once.
At a national level, the WHO is recommending that high-risk groups, such as front-line health workers, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, are prioritised.
And on a global scale, the WHO is working together with major health funds to promote a global distribution project called Covax that aims to share COVID-19 vaccines fairly, irrespective of a country’s wealth level. A September report from the WHO on vaccine allocation said fair and equal access was in every country’s interest: “Infectious threats to health know no borders; as long as there is active Sars-CoV-2 transmission anywhere there will be a risk of transmission everywhere.”
Britain, the United States and Canada have already started giving people the jab. Germany is in the process of setting up hundreds of vaccination centres across the country, many of them in repurposed sports stadiums and conference halls, ahead of the EU regulatory body’s pending approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, expected on Monday. — dpa