The entire world is racing to find a vaccine for the coronavirus disease which has affected millions of people. There are nearly 100 vaccine candidates which are in different phases of research and trials.
The researchers from Oxford University recently shared the results of their vaccine candidate’s human trials. But now, a debate has been raging on: Who gets to be first in line for a Covid-19 vaccine?
There is no set protocol or guidelines for now to decide on how to ration doses. For experts, it is a vexing issue.
“Not everybody’s going to like the answer,” said Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States. “There will be many people who feel that they should have been at the top of the list,” he recently told one of the advisory groups the government asked to help decide.
Traditionally, first in line for a scarce vaccine are health workers and the people most vulnerable to the targeted infection.
But Collins gave it a new spin. He wants people where an outbreak is hitting hardest to be given priority.
And then there are volunteers who are helping various pharmaceutical firms in human trials of the vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer began tests last week that eventually will include 30,000 volunteers each. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax are next in line to go for human trials and will require a large number of volunteers.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has also given a suggestion: The vaccine should be given to most critical health, national security and other essential workers. Next in line would be those over 65 who live in long-term care facilities, or those of any age who are in poor health – or who also are deemed essential workers. The general population would come later. And then, there is of course the rich vs poor divide.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is also facing this dilemma as it wants to fairly distribute the Covid-19 vaccine to poor countries.
Last month, eight world leaders came together demanding equitable access to coronavirus disease vaccine when it is developed. Leaders of Canada, Spain, New Zealand, South Korea, Ethiopia and three other countries sought cooperation from various countries in manufacturing and distributing a Covid-19 vaccine.
They jointly published an oopnion piece in the Washington Post where the leaders called vaccine as the “most powerful public health tool”. They also said that vaccine distribution, if managed successfully, will be a “cornerstone of strengthening multilateralism for the future”.
For now, health experts are devising innovative strategies to make the Covid-19 vaccine available to as many people as possible. Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to speed vaccine manufacturing and distribution, is working out how to rapidly transport the right number of doses to wherever vaccinations are set to occur.
Drive-through vaccinations, pop-up clinics and other innovative ideas are all on the table, said CDC’s Dr Nancy Messonnier.