Global vaccinations for Covid-19 will be costly, tricky and resisted by anti-vaxxers
- Getting the world vaccinated would probably cost the earth, including the expense of storage and distribution, not to mention the growing resistance to vaccination
- While markets and pharmaceutical companies celebrate news that a vaccine will soon be ready for use, for most people relief may be a long way off
Even at the best of times, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies are infamous for their culture of non-transparency over drug pricing. Details of their procurement contracts with governments are rarely revealed, and that remains the case amid the frenzied urgency to protect the world from Covid-19.
Most attention has been focused on the 13 potential vaccines in phase 3 large-scale testing, and the six approved for early, limited use. Even here – with detailed negotiations under way with various governments – the cost of vaccinating the world’s 7.8 billion population is only dimly recognised. Be assured, it will be huge – dwarfed only by the economic cost of the pandemic itself, which the World Economic Forum estimates at US$8.1-15.8 trillion.
Pfizer coronavirus vaccine more than 90 per cent effective, US drug maker says
They expect to receive an initial 2 billion doses for distribution before the end of next year, and aim to keep the cost to around US$3-4 per dose. Significantly, neither the United States nor US company Moderna is in the Covax scheme.
Moderna Covid-19 vaccine nearly 95 per cent effective in second promising trial for US drug makers
Across the US, large numbers of “freezer farms” are beginning to appear – football-field sized warehouses designed to store vaccines once they are approved. Moderna’s vaccine needs to be stored at minus-20 degrees Celsius, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus-70 degrees.
As President-elect Joe Biden promises US$25 billion for the manufacture and distribution of the vaccines, he faces the mother of all supply chain challenges – from deep-freezer trucks to refrigerated shipping containers and deep-freezer facilities in hospitals, clinics or doctors’ surgeries. That is on top of supplying hundreds of millions of needles, glass storage vials, masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment – and dry ice (carbon dioxide, which freezes at minus-78 degrees) by the hundreds of tonnes.
Given how miserably so many governments have managed coronavirus testing, and track and trace protocols, there can be no underestimating the challenges of distributing a vaccine.
Belgium to become a distribution hub for coronavirus vaccines across Europe and Africa
As the world’s health systems prepare to manage one of the biggest, most complex and most politically-charged health-care projects ever undertaken, that scepticism speaks volumes – especially when medical experts say that at least 70 per cent of us will need to be vaccinated for the pandemic to be brought under control.
Our pharmaceutical giants may be preparing to celebrate a bonanza, but for most of us facing the daily danger of contagion, the relief offered by a vaccine remains a long way down the tunnel.
David Dodwell researches and writes about global, regional and Hong Kong challenges from a Hong Kong point of view