I N T E R N A T I O N A L – C O V I D
Tafhim Radita Ali
When the first whispers of a new virus were heard, most didn’t expect it to explode into a pandemic. However, researchers all around the world have been working on decoding the SARS-CoV-2 genome since January. Their efforts have been fruitful, as Covid-19 vaccines have been developed in less than a year – leaps and bounds quicker than the Ebola vaccine, the previous fastest developed vaccine, which took about five years. Regardless of what comes next, this is an incredible feat in healthcare and medicine, one that will be marked for decades to come.
Currently, there are three main vaccines on the market — the Moderna’s, the Pfizer-BioNTech, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca. Other than these, many companies around the world, including some in Bangladesh, are continuing their research and development on their own vaccines. So, it is likely that more will be made available soon.
The Moderna’s Vaccine (mRNA-1273), made by an American biotech company of the same name, got positive reviews in their Phase III trials in early November. This means, it was tested on a large sample of people who the vaccine is intended to, and has gotten the required data to verify this vaccine as safe to use. In fact, the Moderna’s vaccine has shown to be a staggering 94% of effectiveness. Consequently, the US government signed an agreement to buy 100 million doses back in August and is under evaluation for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
However, perhaps the only possible drawback to this ray of hope is its complicated preservation process. The vaccine will need to be stored at -2󠆏°C to -8°C in order to last 30 days, or at -70°C for 4 months of preservation. The estimated cost is likely to be between $25 to $37 per dose.
The Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine (BNT162b2) is a vaccine made by two companies – Pfizer, an American pharmaceutical company; and BioNTech, a German biotech company. It has also gotten positive results from Phase III trials, being 90% effective and has applied for EUA with the FRA in the USA — an application that will be reviewed in mid-December. Taking into account the urgency of the situation at hand, the UK government has approved distribution of this vaccine as of 2 December, and Bahrain followed suit on 4 December. This vaccine costs $19.50 per dose. But due to its double-dose requirement, 19-42 days apart, the price totals to $39 per patient. Like the Moderna’s, it will also need to be stored at -70°C for maximum potency.
Oxford-AstraZeneca (AZ1222) is a vaccine developed by Britain and has only recently gotten approval from the UK government for temporary supply. It is currently undergoing Phase III trials and, after much criticism of their data and re-experimentation, has managed to get their effectiveness up to 90%. For developing countries, such as Bangladesh, this vaccine seems to be the most promising, as it comes as $3 to $4 per dose ($6 – $8 per patient along with having a double-dose requirement, one month apart) and can be kept at standard refrigerated conditions (2°C – 7°C).
Though countries like the UK have already approved distribution, Bangladesh faces many problems. For one, Bangladesh simply does not have the cold-chain storage system that will allow Pfizer and Moderna to be stored at such low temperature. Moreover, both the former two vaccines come at a high cost.
With the recent AstraZeneca vaccine, neither storage nor money will be a problem.
“We expect to get the vaccine as early as February and people will get it for free,” says Health Secretary, Abdul Mannan, as the Bangladeshi government signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India to buy 30 million doses of the vaccine.
The AstraZeneca vaccine will be distributed for free. However, for those willing to pay $1.60 to $2 (Tk138 – Tk170) per person, they should note that Bangladesh also looks forward to receiving 68 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, within 2021.
These free AstraZeneca vaccines will be distributed in a fair and safe procedure using guidelines set by WHO to save the most lives possible within the time that it takes to manufacture, distribute, and vaccinate the entire global population. The first in line, respectfully deserving, will be healthcare and social workers. After that, keeping the sound argument of risk factors in mind, the vaccines will be distributed among people who are 80+, 75+, 70+ of age and so on in order to efficiently cater to the most vulnerable.
To say the very least, this year has been a tough one for all of us and the fight is far from being over. However, the future looks brighter, thanks to the doctors and scientists all over the world. As of now, we can hope to soon go back to our normal lives – as normal as they can be though after a pandemic of this impact.
The writer is a part of TDA Editorial Team.