Billions of vaccine doses needed to make the world safe

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - June 13, 2021 - 12:00am

The announcement of President Joe Biden on the eve of the G7 Summit in the United Kingdom that the US will donate 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer has been described by the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti as “a monumental step forward.”

The half a billion doses – which will be given to about 100 nations in dire need of vaccines with the first shipment targeted for August – will be “the largest single purchase and donation of COVID-19 vaccines by any single country ever,” President Biden said, emphasizing that the US is giving the donation with no strings attached.

“Just as with the 80 million doses we previously announced, the United States is providing these half billion doses with no strings attached… Our vaccine donations don’t include pressure for favors or potential concessions. We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic. That’s it. Period,” said Biden, underscoring America’s recognition of the role it plays in leading the fight against the pandemic that continues to wreak havoc across the globe.

Following the commitment made by President Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK and the other G7 nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – will also donate another 500 million doses, with the UK committing 100 million doses. Collectively, that’s a pledge of one billion doses from the G7 nations.

But while Biden’s announcement was “clearly a cause for celebration,” according to Africa CDC director John Nkengasong, it will only make a small dent on the huge need to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the global population to achieve herd immunity. Data from the Johns Hopkins University and a report by Fortune showed that only 2.2 billion people or about 12 percent out of the estimated 8 billion global population had received at least one vaccine shot, although some reports place the figure at roughly 20 percent of the world’s population. As everyone knows, existing vaccine brands except for the one manufactured by Johnson & Johnson would require two doses for people to become fully vaccinated.

Vaccine experts such as Dr. Peter Hotez, author of numerous scientific papers and a professor of Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, says 5-6 billion doses will be needed to inoculate 2-3 billion people in places that continue to reel from the pandemic, among them parts of Africa, Latin America, Middle East and Asia.

“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as it will help more than 250 million people, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” also remarked Oxfam America’s Nicholas “Niko” Lusiani.

The Center for International Governance president Rohinton Modhera also believes “we will need about 10 to 12 billion doses this year if we want to inoculate every adult around the world,” expressing concern for about 40 countries that have only managed to vaccinate one percent of their population.

The World Health Organization estimates that 11 billion doses would be needed to achieve a 70 percent vaccination level on a global scale to significantly curb virus transmission. But what is even more worrisome now for experts is the emergence of strains that could possibly be vaccine resistant, such as the Delta variant first detected in India that has spread to 62 countries.

Hotspots continue to emerge in Asia and South Africa, with the latter now entering a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic with cases increasing by as much as 30 percent in a week. Uganda is worse off, recording a 131 percent rise in cases in a week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“There are hotspots in each region, there are countries that are really facing very, very challenging situations, with increases in transmission,” said the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove. “Eighteen months in, we’re all tired of this virus. It’s not done with us yet, and if we give it the opportunity to spread, it will,” she added, citing the relaxation of public health and social measures as well as increased social mobility, virus variants and inequitable vaccination as some of the reasons for the recent surges.

There are many pressing issues the world faces, but none like we are experiencing with this pandemic. No one will argue that there is nothing to talk about if we’re all going to be dead before our time is up on this earth. Let’s skip politics and issues for now – China, Russia, US, UK, the European Union and India – must ramp up production while those with excess doses in their stockpile should share with the poorest and even middle-income countries to get closer to the goal of collective herd immunity. Unless we get world immunity, there is nothing to fight about. Humanity’s survival is clearly at stake here.

In the words of Dr. Hotez, “We desperately need a US foreign policy and American leadership to take on this challenge” of vaccinating the world. Not surprisingly, President Biden’s announcement to donate 500 million vaccine doses has put the US in a leadership position once again, underscored by his statement that “America will be the arsenal of vaccines in our fight against COVID-19, just as America was the arsenal of democracy during World War II.”

But more than anything, this is about the “humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can” because, as the UN and numerous organizations have repeatedly stressed, nobody is safe until everyone is safe.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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