Equitable distribution of Covid vaccines to help restore global travel
Different storage conditions required for each of the four vaccines likely soon to be available to the market could mark the difference between how they are distributed – and how global travel restrictions will ease up
News of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna and the Sputnik V vaccine is being touted left, right and centre – with each of the four having displayed at least 90-per-cent effectiveness in preventing people falling seriously ill with Covid-19.
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (or mRNA) to trigger an immune response within people. In recent trials, Pfizer and BioNTech SE’s BNT162b2 vaccine was found to be 90-per-cent effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in participants without evidence of prior infection; while data from US company Moderna shows its vaccine to be nearly 95-per-cent effective.
Equitable global distribution
The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, meanwhile, is part of a global initiative co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – known as Covax – that aims enable the rapid and equitable distribution of new Covid vaccines to both the richest countries and those in the developing world.
In addition, unlike the vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, both the AstraZeneca/Oxford University and the Russian Sputnik V vaccines do not require storage at sub-zero temperatures, making them more convenient for distribution on a global scale.
“In an ideal world, we would like to have vaccines that have a long shelf life, that are temperature stable, ideally easy to use. Some still require ultra-cold chain – that’s storage at minus 80°C – and that does make it difficult,” Seth Berkley, Chief Executive of global vaccines alliance Gavi, told the BBC.
Distribution to the developing world
For the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, as part of the Covax initiative, its storage temperature is an especially important element in facilitating its distribution to destinations in poor and low-income countries that do not have the appropriate receptive storage for the vaccines.
“The advantage of the AstraZeneca vaccine [is] it can be stored in an ordinary refrigerator, from two to eight degrees [Celsius], and is similar to the characteristics of other vaccines that we use in the developing world,” Berkley added.
Indeed, as Berkley rightly notes, similar vaccine distribution techniques have been used to help eradicate the 11th outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In mid-November, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius shared his concerns that less economically developed countries – which are also particularly dependent on tourism and have therefore taken a massive hit as a result of Covid restrictions – may not have equal access to affordable and safe vaccines, and so commended the Covax initiative setup by WHO.
The effect of equitable distribution on worldwide tourism
Still, distribution to over seven billion people will be a great feat regardless, and will still take some time to plan and carry out logistically. But, in order to restore global tourism revenue, travel between rich and low-income destinations needs to be facilitated.
Airport testing will still no doubt play a key role in relaxing international travel restrictions, even once a vaccine becomes widely available, as the durability of vaccines is still in question – and so public-private partnerships, as well as airlines and travel agents partnering with international insurers to help cover medical expenses such as testing, isolating and repatriation, will remain a key facilitator of travel – as well as offering some additional security to travellers.