Readiness and vaccines

Letters to the Editor

Readiness and vaccines

Monday, January 11, 2021

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Dear Editor,

Prime Minister Andrew Holness erred when he accused wealthy countries of hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and refusing to share them with poorer ones.

Right now nobody is hoarding 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. Pharmaceutical enterprises are not charitable organisations. They are in the business to make a profit. They, first, have to make sure they recover their investment.

To negotiate the lowest price feasible the EU decided to order approximately 2 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. Some 27 EU 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 over the last two weeks administered some 400,000 doses. 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 list, beginning with the most vulnerable, including nursing homes, precautionary measures and restrictions remain mandatory in Germany and other EU member countries.

Shortage of vaccine supply is one issue, but transportation, storage and distribution compound the challenges. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires transportation and storage at a temperature between -80°Celsius and -60°C (-112°Fahrenheit to -76°F). Right now physicians and most hospitals can't facilitate such storage. Therefore the vaccine needs to be stored and preferably administered in special vaccination centres. Germany, while affluent and technically advanced, still considers transportation, storage, and distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine the main obstacle. This will be 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 vaccine.

Jamaica is expected to receive vaccines by April this year. 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 some facilities for transporting, storing and distributing the most effective Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Frederick Bucking

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