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Logistical, ethical fears of Covid jab are upon us

By Stephen Ndegwa
Thursday, December 17th, 2020
India Medley, Chief Nurse Officer at Howard University Hospital, receives the Covid-19 vaccine at Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC, yesterday. Photo/AFP
In summary

With the war against the coronavirus pandemic entering its final stage, the world has also ventured into uncharted waters, medically speaking.

Never before in human history has a vaccine against a pandemic been developed in record time from research and formulation to testing, approval and roll out.

In addition to the unprecedented speed at which vaccines are being developed, there are a few key processes that might be rushed in the race against time.

Moreover, it puts pressure on the health system, considering that US President Elect Joe Biden had lamented during a recent CNN exclusive that “there is not a detailed plan that we’ve seen anyway as to how you get the vaccine out of a container into an injection syringe into somebody’s arm”.

The revelation sounded alarm bells as the US is the worst hit by the pandemic and the numbers keep rising on a daily basis. 

On December 4, the US director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, criticised the United Kingdom for rushing the approval of the vaccine.

Fauci was quoted by both Fox News and CBS News saying that unlike the US, the UK had “rushed” the approval and had not reviewed the data carefully.

Though he later apologised for the apparent slight, his remarks were valid. Last Wednesday UK health regulators warned that the vaccines should not be taken by people with severe allergic reactions.

This points to a research gap, which Pfizer has already said it is now investigating, even as it leaves a small percentage of the population vulnerable to Covid-19 infection.  

There are also questions whether everyone will come back for the second jab, which should be given 21 days or 28 days after the first one, depending on the manufacturer.

The absence of this booster would lender the vaccine ineffective, which would not only be a waste of time and money.

Distribution plans might prove tricky and controversial. Biden alluded to this fact during his CNN exclusive when he talked about the massive amount of capital outlay needed for the deep refrigeration of the vaccines in the US coupled with vast distances to be covered. 

The role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) looks like it has been overlooked with the currently disparate and uncoordinated vaccine initiatives. 

Each country seems to be using its own national mechanisms and approving vaccines as an emergency measure, giving scant attention to the Guidance on National Deployment and Vaccination Planning, WHO’s roadmap released on November 16, 2020 aimed at helping countries develop a collective approach for Covid-19 vaccine introduction.

Some of the critical aspects of the guidelines include regulatory preparedness, planning and coordination, identification of target populations, vaccination delivery strategies, immunization monitoring systems and Covid-19 surveillance. 

However, it seems like vaccine developers have side-stepped WHO’s input, which greatly undermines coordinated global efforts.

Moreover, with the apparent shunning of WHO’s leadership, how would the international body help if the vaccines spawned another health crisis?

Then there are emerging trust issues related to the source of particular vaccines. Western countries seem to prefer only those vaccines produced by another major Western country, which is currently the Pfizer vaccine.

The war against the pandemic might also be slowed by anti-vaxxers, and those who generally read conspiracies in vaccines.

But these observations do not water down the benefits of the emerging mass vaccination roll out that is expected to gain pace in the coming days and weeks.

While certain countries and regions are more prepared than others, it is hoped that serving public good will override the desire for abnormal profits.

It is important that all anti-pandemic efforts are implemented through multilateralism and solidarity. — The writer is an international affairs columnist

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