As the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic climbs daily, the world waits anxiously for a vaccine — a crucial component towards resuming our normal way of life. Current estimates conclude it will take 12-18 months for a vaccine to be developed, manufactured, as well as distribution initiated. Even when these steps fall into place, we won’t wake up one day and all be able to get vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. There will likely be limited supplies, with the vaccine possibly originating in a different country. Which leads to questions like: Will there be enough for everyone? And, who should get priority for receiving the vaccine?
Which Country Gets First Dibs?
The World Health Organization (WHO) states on their site, “Under WHO’s coordination, a group of experts with diverse backgrounds is working towards the development of vaccines against COVID-19. Currently, worldwide over 60 vaccines are being developed, with some as far into the process as conducting clinical trials in humans. The ideal vaccine will provide immunity with minimal side-effects.
Beyond having the manpower to develop vaccines, infrastructure and funding are necessary. In an article from Nature.com, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) — a fund based in Oslo that finances and coordinates vaccines for outbreaks– said US$2 billion is needed to help develop candidate vaccines and manufacture them for trials, with another $1billion devoted to manufacturing and distribution of a vaccine. Currently, $690 million has been dedicated to this by national governments. Ultimately, several more billions of dollars would likely be required.
Something to take into consideration — will the country who develops the first vaccine readily share it with the world? The Nature.com article pointed to Australia, the first country to develop an H1N1 influenza vaccine in 2009. Australia supplied its citizens first. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland told Nature.com, “Most countries have laws enacted that allow the government to force manufacturers to sell domestically, and I don’t see this changing.”
Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, a general practitioner and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor, tells Parentology hotspots need to be prioritized for vaccine distribution. “The country with the most cases of coronavirus should be the first to get the vaccine. The amount of deaths shows how many people the virus is spreading to in that country, and they should be the priority.”
Aragona points out that healthcare coverage may have an impact on who receives the vaccine. “This vaccine will most likely be mandatory in countries where healthcare is free and will be highly encouraged in countries where it isn’t.”
Aragona adds, “However, this could be the exception, as many will not be able to afford the vaccine with the multiple loss of jobs, meaning all people will be vaccinated. It is also likely that China will get the vaccine first. They are more able to produce the vaccine and will likely distribute it there to ensure safe production for other countries.”
Whether a vaccine originates in the US, or arrives here, where it’s initially distributed will likely come into play. Dr. Mobola Kukoyi, an emergency medicine physician at Carle Foundation Hospital, a Level 1 Trauma Center in Central Illinois, tells Parentology, “Priority should be given to populations in regions identified as hotspots. For example, New York.”
At-Risk Healthcare Workers versus High-Risk Patients?
Hear the experts weigh the best approach to who should receive a vaccine and their responses feel both targeted and open. “Healthcare workers should also get priority since we often have frequent contact with the vulnerable populations,” Kukoyi says.
She follows this with, “Our priorities should be the most vulnerable populations at risk for the disease in question, those who take care of them, then the general population in order to truly break the spread of this disease.”
Breaking this down, she explains, “Those that have been identified with having the highest risk of complications should definitely get priority. This would include people over the age of 60, those with co-morbidities such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes and obesity.”
*Author Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC is a nurse and lactation specialist.