COVID-19 Vaccine is needed to End the pandemic. Right now, many countries including Italy, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom, are still struggling desperately to put out the initial fire. They are using suppression measures like stay-at-home orders as a fire extinguisher to smother transmission while urgently trying to ramp up their capacity to conduct testing, to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment for health workers, and to treat people with COVID-19.
Over 120,000 people globally have died from the coronavirus in 193 countries and territories, according to an AFP tally at 1100 GMT Tuesday based on official sources. There have been over 1,923,390 reported infections since the outbreak of the virus in China in December.
The United States has the most deaths of any country with a record of 23,649 fatalities and 582,594 infections.
Italy follows suit with 20,465 deaths, Spain with 18,056, France 14,967 and Britain 11,329.
Britain’s economy could shrink by a historic 13 percent in 2020 in the case of a three-month coronavirus lockdown, according to a scenario by the fiscal watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility.
The French government says its economy is expected to contract eight percent this year, reflecting the impact of an extended lockdown. Its budget deficit was forecasted to go up to nine percent of GDP and its debt pile to soar to 115 percent of GDP.
India’s extends its nationwide lockdown, the biggest in the world covering 1.3 billion people, until May 3.
India’s official toll of over 10,363 cases and 339 deaths is considered to be an underestimate due to a lack of testing.
President Emmanuel Macron announces that France’s lockdown will be extended to May 11, after which schools and businesses are set to gradually reopen.
He says in an address to the nation the epidemic is “beginning to steady… (and) hope is returning”.
In Italy, where a strict lockdown has been extended to May 3, some businesses, such as bookshops and laundrettes, are allowed to reopen in some regions.
Austria on Tuesday also reopens small shops and public gardens.
Spain has restarted construction and factory work, but lockdown restrictions in place since March 14 remain for much of the nation’s 47 million people.
New York State becomes the worst hit, where the virus has killed over 10,000 people, governor Andrew Cuomo says the “worst is over.”
President Donald Trump says: “It looks like we’re plateauing” and that he is “very close” to having a detailed plan for reopening the US economy.
Vaccine needed to end virus–WHO
The novel coronavirus is 10 times more deadly than swine flu and only a safe and effective vaccine will fully halt its spread, according to the World Health Organisation.
“Ultimately, the development and delivery of a safe and effective vaccine will be needed to fully interrupt transmission,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says.
Help for poor countries
The International Monetary Fund announces immediate debt relief for 25 poor countries to help them free up funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The annual theatre festival in the southern French city of Avignon, the world’s most famous celebration of drama, set for July 3-23, is cancelled.
The good news is that the time from “lab to jab” could be as short as 12-18 months (though some experts predict it will take longer), a fraction of the time it took to develop an Ebola vaccine. Efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccines have been on the fastest trajectory in history. Just 63 days after China shared the genetic code of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the first human trial began in Seattle, USA on March 16, 2020. Two days later a trial in China kicked off.
There are now at least 70 COVID-19 vaccines under development, including at my own university led by Bart Haynes at the Duke Human Vaccine Initiative. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Norway-based public-private partnership that develops epidemic vaccines, is aiming to mobilize $2 billion to make three vaccines available to the point at which they can be mass manufactured and deployed. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, just announced a $1 billion partnership with J&J to accelerate development of J&J’s vaccine candidate.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help fund factories ready to manufacture seven of the vaccine candidates currently under development, even though only one or two candidates are likely to be successful, a strategy that Bill Gates acknowledges will lead to billions being spent on the abandoned five candidates. Losing a few billion dollars, he argues, is worth it compared to the trillions of dollars being lost economically by COVID-19.
We’ve seen this happen before. During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, rich countries like Australia, Canada, and the United States secured large advanced orders for the vaccine from manufacturers, and as a result poor countries received vaccines much more slowly and in smaller quantities. They were unable to vaccinate as many of their citizens.
We’ll then need a worldwide allocation system that is fair, transparent, and tailored towards ending the pandemic. It would make sense, for example, for the initial doses to go first to health workers and to countries that have an uncontrolled epidemic, then to the elderly and medically vulnerable, and finally to the whole population.
The Geneva-based organization Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which currently funds vaccinations in 73 low- and middle-income countries, is already helping to get these countries ready for the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines. With sufficient donations from the public, philanthropic, and private sectors, Gavi could buy enough vaccine for all 73 countries. Other funders like the World Bank and the Global Fund will need to help fund vaccine delivery efforts.
Which brings us to the multi-billion dollar question. How much cash will be needed to buy enough vaccine? This all depends on the price of the vaccine.
In the current pandemic situation, many vaccine companies are receiving public funding for their efforts and should not be seeking a profit or price gouging. We cannot expect them to take a big financial hit, of course, but they should ideally sell the vaccine on a break-even basis. The manufacturers should commit to making the vaccine available at a price low enough to ensure truly global reach.
Given J&J’s important partnership with BARDA, the company looks set to potentially be a key supplier of a vaccine. It was therefore encouraging to learn that if J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine effort is successful, the company will sell it on a not-for-profit basis. But the price that J&J is suggesting, of ten dollars a dose, would mean that the solidarity purchasing club would simply not be able to buy enough doses to distribute the vaccine to those who need it worldwide. Ten dollars would be just the price of the vaccine itself—there is an additional cost for the distribution. At a ten dollars per dose price, there would probably be no end in sight for the COVID-19 crisis.
Nobody can know so early in the development process what the final price of a new vaccine will be. It depends on many factors, such as how it is given (e.g. the number of doses), the complexity of the manufacturing process, and whether you need to add an ingredient called an adjuvant to boost the vaccine’s effectiveness. But when the world finally gets a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine, fair allocation and fair pricing will be crucial for ending the COVID-19 pandemic.