COVID-19 Vaccines: Our Best Shot

Maya Anandan

Will the COVID-19 vaccine save us from the global pandemic or will it be a waste of money, time and hope?

We are living through unparalleled times. The coronavirus has taken a toll on almost every aspect of our lives. Not only has it put our economies on pause and at risk, but it has also put our lives and the livelihoods of those around us in danger.

Gone Global

There have been over thirty million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and almost one million deaths worldwide since the beginning of the pandemic. Different countries have implemented different measures in order to mitigate the impacts of SARS-CoV-2, because unfortunately, there is no confirmed cure. India, China, France and Italy, for example, enforced nationwide lockdowns, whereas countries like the United States chose not to. As we know, some of the precautionary measures around the world include mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, testing of COVID, and contact tracing. Although these measures have been effective in many ways, one of our best hopes to achieve global immunity is a vaccine against COVID-19.

Why Vaccines?

Vaccines have been around ever since Edward Jenner created the first vaccine to combat smallpox. Vaccines are fundamental for protecting people against infectious diseases by reducing the risk of getting infected, and infecting those around you.

The development of vaccines, however, is a multi-stage process which can take up to 10 years. There are 4 major stages in the development of vaccines. These include the preclinical stage, which involves testing the developed vaccine on animals such as mice and monkeys. The clinical stages which follow are divided into three phases.  Phase 1 tests the safety of the vaccine on a small number of people. If the vaccine is considered “safe”, then it is tested in the Phase 2 trial on a few hundred people, which measures the effectiveness of the vaccine. Phase 3 tests the vaccine for both safety and efficacy on thousands of people to make sure that it works, and more importantly, that it is safe. It is only after these three trials are successful that the regulatory body of a country can approve the use of a vaccine.. Currently, there are 40 COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and almost 90 COVID-19 vaccines being tested on animals.

Typically, vaccine manufacturing only begins after its safety has been confirmed. However, COVID-19 vaccines have been fast-tracked. In some cases, the manufacturing began during the clinical trials, even before any results were published. Both biotech companies and wealthy countries have taken this risk of spending billions of dollars in producing vaccines despite its unpredictability. These decisions have  sparked anger and sown doubt among many communities around the world because of the numerous possibilities of things going wrong after one has been vaccinated. Even if the vaccine has passed all 4 stages, there may still be suspicion around whether people can trust the vaccine’s safety, because that process has been sped up.

Even though biotech companies seem confident in their ability to develop vaccines, there are still a number of both ethical and logistical issues that could occur during the process. First of all, governments and companies have to figure out how to distribute doses to hospitals throughout their countries. In some cases, vaccines require cold storage facilities, presenting the issue of affordability ? Another issue governments will face is the transportation of  vaccines to remote areas. In a country as populated as India, many people live in remote areas where connections to the major cities are quite weak. There are also many ethical issues one must address before the vaccine is distributed. The question that has been on everyone’s mind, who will get the vaccine first?, has sparked an ethical conflict. Will the elderly get the vaccine first, or will healthcare workers dealing with COVID patients receive it before they do? And what about us at AES? When will we get vaccinated? These are all questions that require discussions in advance, with representatives from all countries present.

The US has an initiative directed at COVID-19 called Operation Warp Speed, which has committed to delivering 300 million doses of a safe and effective COVID vaccine to Americans by early 2021. But how will the rest of the world receive COVID vaccines if rich countries have already purchased so many doses?

The global race to develop the vaccine has pitted wealthy countries against poor countries, and the only way to stop this unequal competition is to make sure that poor countries also have access to the vaccine  when the time comes. Thankfully, there are several organizations around the world that are determined to supply as many doses as possible to developing nations. One such organization is GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, which has pooled resources from 64 wealthy countries and has committed to supplying vaccine doses to the 92 poorest countries. It is important to remember that everyone must work together, because we live in an interdependent global economy which can thrive on ethical collaboration. This is the essence of AES itself.

But What About India?

India’s capabilities have allowed them to play a major role in the production and manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine, seeing as they have already been incredibly successful in that field. Before the coronavirus pandemic, India never took on the role of developing new vaccines, instead focusing on manufacturing vaccines developed in other countries. Now, not only have Indian biotech companies developed their own vaccines, but they are also leading the efforts for manufacturing vaccines for countries across the globe. India’s future is bright, and because of their incredible efforts, they could potentially become a leader in the fight against COVID-19.