Sars-Cov-2 continues to humble science, even though it’s been a year since it started spreading across the world. Back when first vaccines had started getting approved in November and December, the world thought the end of Covid-19 was nigh. Now it is learnt that several mutations of the same virus, some more infectious and deadlier, have intensified the pandemic and put question mark over vaccine efficacy. Amid all the uncertainties, vaccines still offer the best bet out of the pandemic.
As per Bloomberg data until January 30, over 90 million vaccine doses had been administered in 62 countries. While 70 percent of those vaccine doses had been administered in the US, China and the EU, the situation is different on per capita basis. Among the top three countries, Israel leads with 51 doses per 100 people, Seychelles 30 doses per 100 people, and UK 13 doses per 100 people. The US had administered 9 doses per 100 people, EU 3 doses per 100 people and China 2 doses per 100 people.
Very soon, there will be at least as many vaccine doses administered as the global count of coronavirus cases. This shows how the pandemic can be eventually brought under control, but vaccine-related inequalities will make it difficult to achieve universal containment. Also, the current global pace of roughly 5 million vaccine doses administered per day may slow down in February, as vaccine producers have hinted cuts in supply. A lull in the supply chains is bad news for nationwide vaccination drives.
Meanwhile, it is old news how rich countries got to be the first in line to get their hands on those vaccines, with low-income and poor countries looking towards COVAX, so far, in vain. The new fiasco involves rich countries fighting with each other over who gets to claim priority on what appears to be a dwindling supply of vaccines. While the US and UK seem to have been spared by big pharma, the EU’s tiff with AstraZeneca may end up with a debacle for Brussels bureaucrats, with political consequences.
With Joe Biden now in the White House, it is expected that America’s response to the pandemic will steer towards “science” rather than “spin”. While that may also have a favorable impact on global response and cooperation (the US swiftly rejoined WHO after Biden’s inauguration), it is obvious that precious time has been lost due to Trump administration’s failed policies. Now the Biden administration is under pressure as case counts remain high and deaths keep mounting – but it will take time to reverse course.
Over here in Pakistan, the federal government is going ahead with what can best be described as a limited vaccination “drive”. The exercise may soon start after procurement of half a million vaccines from China. While frontline health workers are rightly the first in line to receive jabs, the public at large are yet to be sensitized about getting vaccinated. A mass awareness campaign is sorely missing, but perhaps it is because there won’t be millions of doses to go around anyway.
At this stage, the government seems either unable or unwilling to vaccinate a certain percent of population. The private sector is being asked to play a major role in immunization against Covid-19. However, a situation where well-to-do folks eventually get their shots while the middle-class and lower income income groups are left on their own is bound to fuel resentment in society.
For a country that hasn’t yet halted the pandemic, being slow or callous towards mass immunization will prolong the suffering. If the government really has a workable plan to vaccinate majority of adults, then the public needs to know about it. But if the need for mass vaccination within this year continues to be ignored, there will likely be social and economic implications. Interestingly, the government is under no pressure to up its game, despite unfavorable comparisons with India and other regional countries.