Tue | Jan 26, 2021

COVID-19 vaccine demand is higher than its supply

Published:Tuesday | January 12, 2021 | 12:06 AM


Prime Minister Andrew Holness erred when he accused wealthy countries of hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and refusing to share them with poorer countries. Right now, nobody is hoarding COVID-19 vaccines. The pharmaceutical industry isn’t even capable of meeting the European and American demand for the vaccine. Europe and America today can’t share vaccines that haven’t been produced yet.

The pharmaceutical industry has invested billions of dollars in the research and development of vaccines, and they are not charitable organisations. They are in the business for making a profit. First of all, they have to make sure they recover their investment. To negotiate the lowest price feasible, the EU decided to order approximately two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses from six suppliers. In the future, other countries, too, are going to benefit from those negotiations. Israel, the first country to administer the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine on a large scale, had to pay four times that price.

Until now only Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been approved in the EU. So far, only Pfizer-BioNtech has been able to deliver the first lot to the EU, which the member states got their share relative to their population.

Germany has an estimated total population of about 83.2 million. Germany received 1.3 million doses, and in the first two weeks over 500,000 people had been given the shots. If they continue at this rate they are going to inoculate 12.5 per cent of their population by the end of this year. While working off a priority to-do-list, beginning with the most vulnerable, inmates of nursery homes, precautionary measures, and restrictions remain mandatory in Germany and other EU member countries.

Shortage of vaccine supply is one issue. Transportation, storage, and distribution is another. The Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine requires transportation and storage at a temperature between -80°C and -60°C (-112°F to -76°F). Right now, physicians and most hospitals can’t facilitate storage below -60°C (-76°F). Therefore, the vaccine needs to be stored and preferably administered in special vaccination centres. Germany is the most affluent and technically advanced EU member but considers transportation, storage, and distribution of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine the main obstacle. This is an even greater challenge for Jamaica and other countries with substandard health infrastructures. At this moment in time, sharing the highly effective Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine with Jamaica doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, apart from not being available in large quantities yet, the less fragile COVID-19 vaccines aren’t as effective as the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine.

Jamaica is expected to receive COVID-19 vaccines by April. Hopefully, by then, the less fragile and less effective vaccines will have been improved. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all for the Jamaican Government to consider providing adequate transportation, storage, and distribution facilities for the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine.