Covid-19 vaccination campaigns have turned into a dog-eat-dog competition internationally as shortages of the coronavirus vaccine have caused some nations to fend for themselves, trying to secure as many doses as possible.
Only a few weeks ago, the arrival of the first batches of the Covid-19 vaccine in each country was cause for jubilation. Today, the procurement of more doses has caused bickering among some.
British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca had promised in early January to supply 80 million doses of its vaccine to the European Union in the first quarter of 2021.
However, later in the month, the company informed the European Commission that it cut the number of promised doses to 31 million in the first quarter, generating a serious problem in the vaccination campaign in EU countries.
Since AstraZeneca did not deliver the promised doses to the EU, but fulfilled its obligations to Britain, the company has been criticized by the European Commission.
Yet AstraZeneca argues that they had signed a deal with the UK three months before they signed the deal with the EU.
At the same time, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson argues that with over 100,000 deaths and thousands of new cases daily, his country is in a state of emergency.
Nevertheless, the pharmaceutical company’s failure to deliver as promised, while fulfilling Britain’s orders has generated a tiff between Britain and the EU.
The EU imposed controls on vaccine exports to keep track of how many doses were leaving Europe and their destination, claiming it was for reasons of transparency.
Suspicious over the possibility that vaccine exports going to Northern Island would end up in Britain, the EU threatened to impose controls on exports to Northern Ireland.
The threat, based on a clause in the Brexit deal, was taken back when British and Irish leaders questioned Brussels over the issue.
Also, U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer recently informed the EU that it cannot supply its members with all the doses agreed for January.
Countries fighting over vaccine doses
Some rich countries have been accused of hoarding vaccine doses at the expense of others, with the leaders of said countries trying to gain popularity.
In the case of Britain, the country’s Premier has won precious public approval points for vaccinating hundreds of thousands of Britons daily.
Despite Johnson’s shambolic response to the first wave of the pandemic – the disastrous effort to achieve herd immunity – Britain now has one of the most successful vaccination programs in the world.
The United States, among the nations that have been hit the hardest among wealthy nations, has spent billions of dollars in the research and development of vaccines.
According to the New York Times, the U.S. has secured 100 million doses from Pfizer, with the option of buying 500 million more, and 200 million from Moderna, with an additional 300 million on offer.
At the same time it has also preordered 810 million doses from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Sanofi combined. The vaccination program is also going at a fast pace.
Yet it is not the same in the EU, which is also considered among the world’s “superpowers”. According to Spiegel, only three percent of the German population are now inoculated, with 70 percent expressing their dissatisfaction with the situation in polls.
In Germany, where the pioneering mRNA vaccine technology was discovered, shortages mar the nation’s scientific achievement and are likely to affect the government’s popularity in an election year.
In the UK 13 percent of the people have been vaccinated so far, while in the country with the highest vaccination rates, Israel, one in two people has been vaccinated.
The shortages have thrown off balance vaccination programs in all the countries of the EU, even in European nations that have applied for membership in the bloc.
For example, part of the first batches sent to Greece were earmarked for neighboring nations Albania and North Macedonia, but the shortage creates a problem,
In order for the Greek vaccination program to go as planned, the vaccines cannot go to these countries because they have to remain in Greece so that the second dose is administered to citizens who have received the first inoculation.
Poor countries will have to wait
Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and stronger EU member states are very likely to achieve widespread vaccination of their population by the end of 2021.
While developed countries are expected to complete their vaccination programs by the end of 2021, this will most likely not be the case for poor countries.
World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “vaccine nationalism” could exacerbate inequalities lower-income countries face.
“The contrast between rich countries and poorer ones is stark. Most developing countries will not have widespread access to the shots before 2023 at the earliest,” wrote Agathe Demarais, the director of The Economist’s intelligence unit for global forecasting in an extensive study.
“Some of these countries — particularly poorer ones — may well lose the motivation to distribute vaccines, especially if the disease has spread widely or if the associated costs prove too high,” the report says.
According to the report, 85 countries in Africa, South America and Asia will likely see coronavirus vaccinations taking place in 2023, while other studies estimate inoculations in poor countries will be ongoing as late as 2024.
To address the issue, WHO and nonprofit organizations launched an effort to secure a total of one billion doses for 92 impoverished countries.