Covid-19 vaccines updates
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Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla has said there are now enough vaccines to meet the World Health Organisation’s goal to increase equitable distribution, as pharmaceutical leaders argue increased supply should mean patent waivers are taken off the table.
The US drugmaker will have delivered 41 per cent of its vaccines to low and middle income countries by the end of the year, while Johnson & Johnson will have sent more than half, as production soars in the second half.
Bourla said he believed it was “feasible” to fulfil the WHO’s target of inoculating at least 10 per cent of the population in every country in the world. He said the Biden administration’s donation of 200m Pfizer doses this year could cover roughly 15 to 18 per cent of the population of the world’s 92 poorest countries.
“I think yes, we will be covering [the goal]. I think next year, we should be having enough doses for all that they want to receive, then we will reach the same problems that we are reaching in the high income countries, with people refusing to get the vaccination,” he said at a press conference of the global pharma industry association.
Vaccine makers have been pushing back against a proposal to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 doses — put forward by South Africa and India and backed by the US — in the hope of expanding access for developing countries.
Bourla said the vaccines had been created by “two miracles”: the original development and the scale-up of manufacturing. “I’m not sure what is the point of transferring a technology that it is going to take years to transfer,” he said.
Thomas Cueni, the director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, said the IP waiver would have been a “distraction”.
“We really see that we are turning the tide from having too few, to enough, to probably more than enough in the future,” he said.
The comments come after a new study from Airfinity, a life sciences analytics company, which concluded that developed countries are sitting on 500m doses they could be distributing this month — and will have an extra 1.1bn by the end of the year.
The estimate does not eat into supplies that might be needed for vaccinating teenagers and reserves enough for each country to boost everyone who has already been vaccinated, if necessary. If western countries were only to boost the over 50s who have already had two doses, the surplus would more than double to around 2.5bn.
Rasmus Bech Hansen, Airfinity’s chief executive, said the surplus had only become clear last month, as vaccine production soared. Until now, politicians had been reluctant to trust manufacturers’ forecasts owing to setbacks in production and the supply chain, he said.
The companies behind the approved vaccines — Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna — are now showing consistent output, he added.
“In a situation where you can’t trust the future supplies, the rational thing is to stock up. But there really is no reason to stock up now when factories across the world are delivering at a steady level,” he said.
The US and the EU have the biggest total surpluses but many western countries have too many vaccines for their population because they tried to spread their bets, predicting that several attempts at making a Covid-19 shot would fail. Per capita, Canada ordered 8.8 doses, the UK 7 vaccines, and the US and the EU have contracts for 5 each.
Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, said accelerating immunisations around the world could help the fight against new variants that may evade the vaccines.
“It’s so important that vaccination happens quickly, so that we limit the replication and therefore limit the arrival of new mutants in the world,” he said.