As countries start approving and purchasing vaccines, many fear an unfair race between rich and poor countries.
Rabat – The UK has approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as the race for vaccines starts in earnest. The UK is planning to start a vaccination campaign next week, with its first doses arriving shortly. The country will start distributing an initial 800,000 doses out of 40 million it has already ordered.
The search for a COVID-19 vaccine has resulted in several candidates that are more than 90% effective. As countries start planning their national vaccination campaigns, a scramble for vaccines is likely to follow. Ever since the COVID-19 virus spread worldwide, countries and dignitaries have spoken out about the need to prevent a vaccine bidding war in which poorer countries lose out.
Bidding wars over vital protective equipment and ventilators in the early phases of the pandemic provided a stark warning that without a fair vaccine distribution, rich countries will secure the bulk of available vaccines. The EU has already ordered 300 million doses of the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine that the UK will roll out next week.
Wealthy countries like the US and the UK are expected to order millions more.
As vaccine manufacturers ramp up production to fulfill orders, a scramble for vaccines is likely to occur, with developing countries having to wait their turn to order and receive what could become prohibitively expensive vaccines.
Two pathways remain to prevent such a scramble.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX initiative is the first way to promote an equitable distribution of vaccines.
WHO proposed the mechanism to accelerate vaccine development and manufacturing with the goal to ensure “fair and equitable access for every country in the world.” Ninety-two lower and middle-income countries, including Morocco, are eligible to get access to vaccines through COVAX.
Yet many richer countries, like France and the US, have chosen not to buy their vaccines through the mechanism, opting to purchase vaccines themselves.
Without universal participation in COVAX, a scramble for vaccines is still likely. Another way to prevent such a scramble is by using non-Western vaccine candidates, which are cheaper and can be manufactured locally.
Morocco has chosen to pursue both paths. The country participates in COVAX and has made several important agreements with Russian and Chinese vaccine manufacturers. Morocco is looking to register the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and will likely be a key manufacturer and distributor of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.
Morocco’s diversified choices can set the country up to realize its ambitious early vaccination campaign as well as to support its African neighbors by becoming a hub for vaccine manufacturing and distribution for Africa. While a scramble for vaccines is still likely to occur, it appears that Morocco has taken important steps to help protect itself and the African continent.