United Nations warned against the race for a coronavirus vaccine; it was ignored

As the United Nations warned, the world is immersed in a biotech race for a coronavirus vaccine

United Nations warned against the race for a coronavirus vaccine; it was ignored
A new vaccine is on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia - Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
English 11/09/2020 14:18 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 14:18

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As the United Nations warned, the world is immersed in a biotech race for a coronavirus vaccine. A competition marked by nationalism and selfishness that will still have to overcome challenges, demonstrated by the case of the product developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Well before Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), had made his warning against “vaccine nationalism” three weeks ago, calling on international leaders to share supplies to fight COVID-19, the White House ratified his point trying to hoard the production from a German company.

According to a Die Welt report confirmed by the German government in March, the Trump administration offered “large sums of money” to get exclusive access to a coronavirus jab being developed by the Tübingen-based CureVac. It tried to move the company’s research wing to the United States and work on the vaccine “for the U.S. only,” forcing federal authorities in Berlin to propose CureVac financial incentives to remain in the European country.

Last week, while dozens of experimental jabs have entered the race, Adhanom reiterated his statement, stressing that vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it. Using vaccines effectively across the world is a “global public good” and it is in “the national interest of each and every country,” he added.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump affirmed that a vaccine could be delivered in the country by October, saying it would be “very safe and effective,” thanks to “Operation Warp Speed,” a public-private partnership established in May.

Trump needs an “October surprise” to improve his popularity with the U.S. general elections approaching. However, the same reason was behind the negligent position he took earlier this year as the pandemic began to sweep the American population.

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Despite the alert emitted by his National Security adviser Robert O’Brien in January, a Trump more concerned by his popularity ratings deliberately minimized the danger, revealed on Wednesday the first reviews of Bob Woodward’s new book Rage. “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward in March.

“There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the U.S. had ever faced,” summarized the famous journalist.

Of course, the harm inflicted by Trump goes beyond the nearly 195,000 people dead in his own nation. It has a global noxious reach in several areas, as might be expected in the twilight of the neoliberal globalization imposed by the West since the 1980s. There is the demagogy of the "Chinese virus" that has contributed to generating a new Cold War promoted by the most reactionary sectors in the U.S., not to mention Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

No international aid
Only this week it was also known that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is about to shut down the task force it set up to tackle the pandemic. The unit participated in overseeing and distributing aid related to coronavirus, including sending ventilators to other countries.

Washington also refused to join the Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), an effort led by WHO aimed at working with drugmakers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective jabs, once they are licensed and approved. Altogether 172 nations are engaged in discussions to potentially participate in COVAX, which is looking to deliver 2 billion doses by year’s end, although this figure would be equivalent to 0.37 doses per person.

In any case, if there was a race for the vaccine it was already won by Russia, which registered its Sputnik V on August 11. Despite Euro-centric skepticism and critics, even against the renowned scientific journal The Lancet for recognizing their effectiveness, the Sputnik V flies and is ready for distribution all over the world, according to the Russian Health Ministry.

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Surprisingly, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which funded the development of the vaccine, announced on Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with Mexican Landsteiner Scientific pharmaceutical company on delivering 32 million doses. The doses, enough to cover 25% of Mexico’s population, are expected to start in November, subject to approval by the local regulatory agency (Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk, Cofepris).

It is worth mentioning, nevertheless, that Russia launched the same day phase 3 trials of the Sputnik V to determine the vaccine’s long-term safety and effectiveness. Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said 31,000 out of the 40,000 volunteers needed have been recruited for the study. The volunteers will receive a booster shot of the same vaccine within 21 days of the first.

For its part, China claimed a virtual victory over the pandemic during a ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. “We are willing to do whatever it takes to protect people’s lives,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told participants, most of whom wore masks and exercised social distancing.

Xi declared that China would continue to support WHO in playing a “leading role in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic”, remarking that “all selfishness, scapegoating, and confusing right and wrong will not only hurt a country and its people, yet harm people from all countries.”

In the meeting, dedicated to honoring the work of four scientists specialized in battling both coronavirus and SARS, a disease caused by a related virus which affected eastern Asia in 2002-2003, Xi underscored that Beijing has sent to other countries 209,000 ventilators, 1.4 billion protective suits, and 151.5 billion masks.

As of Wednesday, China had not reported any cases from local transmission in more than three weeks, with all of the new contagions detected in that time among travelers from abroad. Three Chinese-made vaccines were presented on Tuesday at a Beijing trade and services fair; they would be ready to hit the market by year’s end and annual production could be ratcheted up to 600 million doses, enough to inoculate roughly half of China’s population.

The Asian country pledged to make a “global public good” its vaccine in May, during the pivotal WHO annual assembly where Trump, in sharp contrast, announced his government’s withdrawal from the UN body. Questions are now arising over how Beijing will allocate doses if proven safe and effective. China has already offered donations to a dozen or so nations across southeastern Asia and Africa, as well as to Hong Kong and Macau.

This week, EL UNIVERSAL highlighted that Western nations have set aside more than 2 billion doses in bilateral contracts with pharmaceutical firms, in an effort to be among the first to obtain the vaccine, as it is estimated that only 10% of the projects will reach the final phase of approval.

Due to its demographics, the United Kingdom would be at the top of the list of orders, with 300 million doses equivalent to five per person, followed by the U.S. with at least 800 million or two per person. For its part, the European Union agreed to the purchase of 300 million and has options for 100 million more.

Interestingly, orders from the European Union and countries such as the U.S. and Australia were negotiated with the British giant AstraZeneca, which also reached a deal to produce its AZD1222 vaccine in Mexico and Argentina. The suspension of their tests in the U.S., Britain, and Brazil, as a result of the disease developed by one of the inoculated volunteers, represented a setback for the scientific community, and the fall of the firm's shares in 6%.

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The woman who has fallen ill reportedly had neurological symptoms consistent with a rare yet serious spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis. AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot explained that the volunteer will undergo further testing; the data will then be submitted to an independent safety committee, which will assess it to decide whether trials can resume.

“We don’t know if it’s transverse myelitis. We don’t know what the final diagnosis is,” Soriot said, adding that the AZD1222 could still be available this year, or early next year.

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The case has reinforced the forecasts of the WHO, which considers that in 2021 there will be a shortage of the vaccine, given the logistical problems that have yet to be resolved. “With the aim to meet the demand of billions of doses in a timely manner we have to start now to create the manufacturing capacity,” affirmed Melanie Saville, director of vaccine research and development at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

 

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