Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.
Joe Amon, Tribune News Service
Recent news from researchers at Oxford University gives some hope that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready as early as this fall. But as with test kits, N95 masks and ventilators, the demand will far exceed the supply — at least initially. So, who should be first in line for a vaccination once it is available?
Health care workers, from doctors to hospital janitors, are on the front lines of fighting this pandemic, so protecting them should be our first concern. After that, deciding who should get vaccinated could get contentious, with states competing against one another for limited supplies, various industries claiming priority and those who can afford it arguing for a free market approach.
Epidemiologists might recommend giving certain populations or regions priority based on mathematical models of disease spread. Others might advocate protecting those at greatest risk of severe illness or death, such as older people and those with underlying health conditions.
Still others will want to prioritize those most at risk of infection, including people who work in “essential industries” or where alternative strategies such as wearing masks and social distancing are difficult.
Asked during a congressional hearing on May 14 whether Americans will have trouble getting a vaccine once one is available, Dr. Rick Bright, the recently ousted director of a key federal agency overseeing vaccine production and purchasing, replied “absolutely.”
We have seen the free-for-all, if not downright corrupt, nature of government support programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program, in which large institutions have gamed the system to soak up funds intended for, and desperately needed by, small businesses. So it is critical that we devise a transparent and bureaucratically simple system, one that caters to those in greatest need.
To reach older people and those with serious underlying health conditions, Medicare-eligible people could get priority. To reach people living in poverty who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 — and who may work in service industries that are essential for opening up the economy, and that put them at high risk — people on Medicaid can be fast-tracked.
Some of the largest outbreaks in the United States have occurred in detention facilities. The government has an obligation to protect inmates and ensure that they have access to care.
This pandemic has made clear that, in our interconnected world, we need to act globally. The US government recently declined to help fund a global effort to support vaccine development. That’s a huge mistake. We need to support global efforts not only for vaccine development but also to expand manufacturing capacity and the distribution of an eventual vaccine.
Going further, we must support the development of a system to pool intellectual property rights for technologies used in preventing, detecting, controlling, and treating COVID-19, to ensure that any breakthroughs are available through licensing at reasonable and affordable terms.
To ensure fair and equitable access to an eventual COVID-19 vaccine, we need to build upon the public health care system we have, and strengthen pandemic preparedness through strengthening the patchwork of programs that provide care to those most vulnerable.
As we face an uncertain future of second, third and perhaps seasonal waves of COVID-19 cases, we need not only more investment, but national leadership and greater recognition of health as a human right, available to all.
With luck – by which I mean vast amounts of skill and professional dedication – the Oxford University/AstraZeneca team will develop a COVID-19 vaccine. They now say it will be ready to present to the regulators by the end of the year. Despite continuing worries about the coronavirus mutating, so that people can catch versions of it more than once, and thus maybe make the vaccine less effective, the arrival of any kind of vaccine is unalloyed good news.
This has reference to your report, “Italian researchers claim world’s first coronavirus vaccine” (May 6). Billions of citizens across the world, irrespective of religion, ideology, caste and creed, wait with bated breath, for scientists to discover a vaccine to fight coronavirus. Never before, has the discovery of a new product, been so critical. Over a hundred research institutions are burning the midnight oil to find a vaccine including the Oxford University, Massachusetts-based Moderna, Beijing-based Sinovac, Biotech Pfizer and BioNtech, Inovio Pharmaceuticals and the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG).
A World Health Organisation (WHO) top-level official has estimated that the vaccine against the SARS-CoV2-causing Novel Coronavirus (COVID19) would only be available in two-and-a half years time.
When pharmaceutical company Moderna issued a press release about the promising results of its Phase I clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine, the media and the markets went wild. The New York Times ran a story that went viral on Twitter, racking up millions of views as social media influencers and doctors alike shared it far and wide. Moderna’s stock price shot up 20 per cent and several peer companies like Novavax rallied even higher at more than 30 per cent.
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