With more than 250 COVID-19 vaccines under development across various platforms, it will be a huge logistical challenge to transport over 10 billion doses of vaccine at regular intervals. Hence, it becomes important that the vaccines get distributed according to need rather than wealth.
No one had ever imagined how something smaller than a few microns in size could create such havoc in the world, starting from muddling up daily lives to massive economic crashes and recessions. Emerging from Wuhan in China, this virus has caused an explosive outbreak of fatal pneumonia leading to an enormous number of deaths. It has drastically changed the lives of millions of inhabitants forcing them to adopt unfamiliar lifestyles.
In March 2020, researchers had predicted the death of around 2.2 million Americans and around half a million Brits due to this virus, crossing the number of deaths in the Second World War. It is only now that people have started realizing that this was just the beginning of a ‘war against an invisible enemy‘. This war could be won only with the help of a strong vaccine. Creating a vaccine is no picnic! It generally takes years or decades to develop a vaccine for an unknown virus. Nonetheless, scientists all over the world are trying to put their heads together to develop it at the earliest.
There did exist a period of doubt about whether an effective vaccine could ever be made or not. But, the perspiring efforts of researchers working at break-neck speeds indicate that the vaccine is indeed coming. The ongoing clinical trials of more than 250 vaccines have brought in rays of hope. It is in fact brought to light that certain forerunner vaccines by manufacturers like ‘Pfizer‘, ‘Moderna‘, and ‘AstraZeneca‘ could enter regulatory review by November-December 2020. If proved successful, they could be pushed for public use through major national regulators. However, for a populous world of 7.8 billion, the distribution and manufacturing rate of the vaccine becomes more important than the vaccine getting approval itself.
It is believed that the complete economic, political and social effects of the pandemic would not reach an end unless and until each and every person gets vaccinated. Thus, faster and equitable distribution of the vaccine becomes an utmost challenge. This process of getting every person vaccinated will be the most daunting logistical and administrative challenges of all times. According to logistics specialist DHL, with more than 250 vaccines under development across various platforms, it will become a huge logistical challenge to transport over 10 billion doses of vaccine at regular intervals.
International travel has declined and airlines have cut down on their international routes to a minimum during this pandemic. Keeping in mind that around 50% of pharmaceutical products are transported by passenger airlines to their destinations at the earliest, it can not only create a supply crunch for the COVID-19 vaccine but also inflate the shipping costs.
Another challenge that arises is that though vaccines are generally kept at cooler temperatures ranging from 2-8 degrees Celsius, COVID vaccines might need more frigid temperatures. According to Pfizer, COVID19 vaccines like BNT162b2 must be stored at -90 degrees Fahrenheit or -60 degrees Celsius. Noting the temperature requirements being a huge obstacle in itself, regions with a warm and humid climate will face even bigger challenges. Countries like South America, Africa, and India could not even be supplied with enough doses due to a shortage of cold chain logistical capacity.
Things will get even tougher for such periphery countries, especially keeping in mind that they might get cornered by rich countries if an equitable distribution system is not followed, according to WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan. For an efficient distribution of the vaccines, and to keep in check the number of deaths, it becomes imperative to follow a protocol of delivery based on priority and need as agreed upon in a mutual international forum like the UNGA.
At domestic levels, countries like India do not have mass-scale immunization programs for the adult population. Thus, people lack awareness in that area. This means that though India might get its hands on the vaccine by 2021, delivery and strategizing the process for the same will be a bigger hurdle, according to ICMR scientist Gagandeeep Kang.
Maintaining an accurate directory of all available providers of health care at private, public, or at the local levels will help in planning and monitoring of the vaccine distribution and delivery. A complete and accurate population distribution chart will help recognize vaccine requirements, draft geographical targets, distribute vaccines, and help keep a check on the overall coverage. It becomes important that the vaccines get distributed according to need rather than wealth. An efficient system that keeps a check on vaccine requirements, that controls end-to-end delivery and implements tough checks on data fudging has to come into play.
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Instead of keeping records on paper, digitization of data should be done to keep a proper check. A sincere commitment to spreading awareness about the uses and side-effects of the vaccine needs to be carried out in various languages and through various media. Standardized training of professionals becomes imperative too.
Having realized all the challenges one might face once the vaccine is out, nations, leaders, and researchers all over the world are on their toes, putting their fingers to the bone to try to deal with every possible issue that may come their way. For our collective consciousness looking far into the future, this successful moment will be defined not by what leisure activities one did in the lockdown but by how many lives got saved, during this unfortunate global challenge!
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