Vaccine 'nationalism' will slow coronavirus fight if poor countries are left exposed

As the coronavirus vaccine race charges on, many of the investigational candidate vaccines are nearing the final stages of human trials. The results of these trials will determine if they will be granted the green light to manufacture and distribute the vaccine to countries across the globe.

In the advent of a vaccine approval, many developed countries have spent billions of dollars to acquire doses of candidate vaccines. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that vaccine hogging may not help curb the ongoing pandemic, especially if poorer countries are still exposed to the threats of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the condition caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell heavily infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (yellow), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID
Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell heavily infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (yellow), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

Vaccine race

The WHO has reported that 26 candidate vaccines are in clinical evaluation or human trials. Of these, six investigational vaccines are now in the last phase or stage of clinical trials. These include vaccines developed by the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm, Beijing Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm, Moderna/NIAID, and BioNTech/Fosun Pharma/Pfizer. Meanwhile, 139 candidate vaccines are in preclinical evaluation.

The WHO said that potential coronavirus vaccines entering the last phase of the human trials do not necessarily mean they are almost ready to be widely distributed to the general public.

"Phase three doesn't mean nearly there. Phase three means this is the first time this vaccine has been put into the general population into otherwise healthy individuals to see if the vaccine will protect them against natural infection," Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program, said during a news briefing.

Until today, the trials were focused on determining if the vaccines are safe to use, and they can trigger an immune response.

Vaccine nationalism

Vaccine nationalism, wherein countries who will produce a coronavirus vaccine will not share it with others, could spell trouble for nations that cannot develop their own.

The WHO has warned against vaccine nationalism, warning that more prosperous countries may keep treatments to themselves, which will not assure they are safe if poor nations remain at risk and exposed to the virus.

"Sharing vaccines or sharing other tools actually helps the world to recover together. The economic recovery can be faster, and the damage from COVID-19 could be less. Vaccine nationalism is not good, it will not help us," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a statement.

"For the world to recover faster, it has to recover together, because it's a globalized world: the economies are intertwined. Part of the world or a few countries cannot be a safe haven and recover," he added.

Dr. Tedros also noted that the damage from the pandemic could be less if the countries that can afford the vaccines commit to uniting with other nations globally. He also said that helping countries that are at risk, especially the poor nations who cannot afford to supply ample amounts of the vaccines to the masses.

Global cases soar

With the global cases skyrocket to a staggering 19.79 million people worldwide, nations are in dire need of a safe and effective vaccine to protect their people from infection. As of writing, the death toll has topped 731,000 people, with the highest number of deaths reported in the United States. The country has clocked up over 5 million cases since it reported its first case in March.

South American and North America have become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Chile reporting high numbers of cases. Next to the U.S., Brazil reports more than 3 million cases.

The other countries with high case tolls include India with over 2.21 million confirmed cases, Russia with more than 885,000 cases, South Africa, with more than 559,000 cases and Mexico, with more than 480,000 cases. Peru, Colombia, and Chile follow with more than 478,000, 387,000, and 373,000 cases, respectively.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has reported the highest number of cases, with more than 129,000 cases, followed by Indonesia, with a staggering 125,000 cases. At the other end of the spectrum, New Zealand announces its success in combatting the SARS-CoV-2 threat as it reports 100 days without COVID-19 community spread. The country has so far 1,569 cases and 22 deaths.

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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