People wait at the entrance of a new open COVID-19 vaccination center in Berlin, Germany. Michael Sohn/AP Photo

Countries around the world work to make COVID-19 vaccines available

A year into COVID-19, countries race to secure vaccines and begin inoculations to help stem the pandemic. 


According to NPR, a disparity exists between countries that could afford to wager on then-experimental vaccines and those that were not able to. In doing so, rich countries secured doses for even their low-risk populations, leaving poorer countries with high-risk populations still uninoculated. 


“Part of the reason is that rich countries are hoarding the vaccine supply,” said Nicholas Lusiani, senior advisor of Oxfam America.  “It’s understandable, to a certain extent that you want to protect your own people. That being said, it’s leaving a lot of people out.”


However, the World Health Organization (WHO) had made it possible to speed up the approval processes for vaccines, allowing poorer countries to secure their own doses. On Dec. 31, 2020, WHO listed the Comirnaty COVID-19 mRNA vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech for emergency use. 


“This is a very positive step towards ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products. “But I want to emphasize the need for an even greater global effort to achieve enough vaccine supply to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere.”


Several countries have secured deals with Pfizer and procured additional doses from other manufacturers. Some have also begun their own vaccination programs while others remain waiting for approvals and further testing. 


According to BBC, in Europe, vaccinations have reached nearly two million people—though not without accompanying political and social issues.


Though Germany has low rates of vaccine hesitancy and, according to Deutsche Welle, more than 600,000 have been given the shot, the government has been criticized for the insufficient number of doses secured. 


Germany is also in discussion about delaying its second dose, which Denmark and Britain have approved, while the manufacturers themselves claim the data is insufficient to back the notion.


In France, not only are citizens more averse to receiving the vaccine, they have criticized the government’s slow rollout, which includes a 45-page dossier and a consultation five days prior to injection. 


According to France 24, health minister Olivier Véran said the process was purposely delayed to prove its benefits to the public. 


President Emmanuel Macron spoke to the issue in his New Year’s Eve address, saying it was to appeal to the public’s hesitancy to a vaccine, but that he would also “not allow [the] unjustified tardiness to continue.” 


According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data tracker, France currently has over 300,000 people vaccinated, a significant improvement from its 45,000 the week before. 


The Swedish government also has its share of criticisms—from officials traveling for vacations to reduced public support after increased COVID-19 cases. 


BBC reported while most Swedes would take a shot, some skepticism could be derived from the country’s experience with the Pandemrix vaccine—which could cause narcolepsy in some recipients of the vaccine—during the swine flu outbreak in 2009 which developed the side effect narcolepsy. 


To the south, African countries have pooled together their vaccine supplies, according to AP News. After securing deals with various manufacturers, the continent is expecting nearly a billion vaccines. 


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also serving as the African Union (AU) chair, called the feat a product of “intensive engagement” from the AU’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.


“Given the massive global demand for vaccines and the vastly greater purchasing power of wealthier countries, we are exploring all avenues to get as many vaccine doses as soon as possible,” Ramaphosa said. 


Only a few Asian countries have begun distributing vaccines so far, leaving a majority still waiting for vaccines to be approved, according to CNN


In India, the government has approved two vaccines: one by Oxford University and AstraZeneca as well as locally manufactured Covaxin by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research. 


According to The Independent, health experts in the country have expressed reservations about the approval of Covaxin. The move prompted statements from the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), an independent health network in the country. 


“We ask that the regulator (to) make publicly available all the data and analyses that were the basis of these decisions, in the interest of transparency and the public’s welfare before these vaccines are rolled out,” said Malini Aisola, co-convenor of AIDAN in talks with Arab News.


According to BBC, top officials from both the government and Bharat Biotech assure that Covaxin is safe and did not undergo a rushed approval. 


China had also approved a locally manufactured vaccine by Sinopharm, with four others pending. 


According to the South China Morning Post, China plans to inoculate 50 million of its population before the Lunar New Year, then proceed with a nationwide immunization program. 


Li Tao, deputy director of the National Healthcare Security Administration, confirmed in a press conference that the free vaccines will be paid for through the health insurance fund and the national budget. 


Japan, on the other hand, faces both a high vaccine hesitancy while remaining without an approved vaccine. According to the Japan Times, the setbacks in approval are due to the country’s local clinical trial requirements of which Pfizer-BioNTech’s dose is the sole vaccine going under regulatory review. 


The Moderna, Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccines continue to undergo trials, but while Moderna’s approval is expected around May, AstraZeneca’s timeline remains unclear. 


Southeast Asian countries have mostly only secured deals for vaccines, with Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna’s doses being the majority choices, according to Reuters


Singapore alone has an undergoing vaccination program with the Pfizer-BioNTech dose, according to The Straits Times


“History will not judge us kindly if we fail the low and middle-income countries in their hour of need,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, at the member states briefing on Jan 7. “We can only recover faster as a global community by sharing.”