Recently, the European Union, Argentina, Singapore and other countries have announced plans to vaccinate people against COVID-19. As of the last day of 2020, about 40 countries around the world have started or are about to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
This is undoubtedly good news for the upcoming 2021. However, under the severe situation of soaring cases and virus mutation, the research and development and production of vaccines are still an unknown race against time and life. At the same time, in the field of distribution, “vaccine nationalism” has become a gap between developed and developing countries.
At present, the global epidemic prevention and control situation is still not optimistic. At the end of the year and the beginning of the year, taking stock of the efforts of global vaccine research and development over the past year, and looking forward to whether the vaccine will give a timetable for ending the pandemic next year, there is both optimism and pessimism in international public opinion.
As the New Year’s bell is ringing, the world should be more alert: viruses are the common enemy of mankind, and “no one will be safe unless everyone is safe”.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Recently, vaccination programs have been launched rapidly in some countries. According to comprehensive foreign media, on December 29, Argentina began to vaccinate citizens with 300,000 doses of Russian “satellite V” vaccine.
On the same day, Singapore vaccinated its medical staff against COVID-19. Morocco’s Ministry of Health recently announced that it will order a total of 65 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical groups and AstraZeneca in the United Kingdom, and then will launch a plan to vaccinate 80% of the country’s adult population. The European Union has launched a formal large-scale vaccination program for 450 million people in the region since December 27 local time.
“Hope”, “milestone” and “new beginnings”. In December this year, people in the United States, Britain and other countries began to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
These positive words are increasingly appearing in the media reports, replacing “desperation”, “chaos” and “far away”. As this change reflects expectations, vaccines are regarded as the decisive force to put the world back on track.
Trials and expectations for vaccines, a “high-tech weapon” run through 2020. On December 22, updated data from WHO showed that a total of 233 COVID-19 vaccines are currently being developed worldwide, of which 61 have entered the clinical trial stage and more than a dozen have entered the clinical phase three trial stage.
Recently, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates and other countries have announced the high effectiveness of their vaccines.
Along with these good news, the bad news comes hand in hand. Recently, the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Sweden, Australia, Spain, Lebanon, Denmark, South Korea and other countries have reported new cases of mutant COVID-19.
Singapore’s Lianzao Daily reported that the release of the vaccine has made people hope that the epidemic can be alleviated within a few months, but many countries have successively found more infectious mutant viruses, which seems to warn against relaxing their vigilance.
Although many countries are beginning to enter the runway of full vaccination, governments have not dared to relax their vigilance and actively organize “war” during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Austria, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom announced measures to restrict population movement again on the second day of Christmas.
Ireland and Italy announced plans to reopen foot bans before the Christmas holiday. Since December 28, Japan has imposed an unprecedentedly strict “five-week ban on most non-citizens from entering the country”, and the United States has begun to require people entering the United Kingdom to provide negative nucleic acid test certificates within 72 hours before departure.
The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Tedros, said recently that the progress of the development of the novel coronavirus vaccine has made people begin to see the “light at the end of the tunnel”, but there is still a long way to go to end the COVID-19 pandemic; even if the vaccine has been launched, people need to adhere to the prevention and control measures.
Inequality is difficult to solve
The British magazine The Economist recently predicted that among the “2021 global trends”, the most noteworthy is the “vaccine battle”. In addition to vaccine diplomacy, there will be a battle for who should get and when to get the vaccine within and between countries.
According to the relevant article, with the sharp increase in the supply of the first vaccines, the focus will shift from the feat of developing vaccines to the equally difficult task: distributing vaccines.
“At present, the global vaccine gap is large, and the production speed is far from keeping up with the growth of demand, resulting in fierce competition for vaccines.” Wang Yiwei, vice president of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era of Renmin University of China, told this newspaper that the COVID-19 vaccine may require everyone to be vaccinated more than once, the transportation and preservation conditions are very harsh, and the production and use costs are very high.
More serious problem is that the distribution of vaccines within many developed countries is uneven, and many developing countries cannot afford vaccines.
The Associated Press reported that of the approximately 12 billion doses of drugs expected to be produced by the pharmaceutical industry next year, about 9 billion have been booked by developed countries. At present, the annual production of the global COVID-19 vaccine is conservatively estimated to be between 2 billion and 4 billion doses.
In the face of unknown risks, countries with abundant financial resources rush to buy vaccines, which will lead to a large number of developing countries to sigh.
To address the imbalance in the distribution of vaccines, the COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Plan (COVAX), led by the Alliance for Innovation in Epidemic Prevention, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and WHO, aims to find effective vaccines for all countries. Nearly 190 countries and economies have joined the mechanism.
On December 18, WHO revealed that COVAX has obtained nearly 2 billion doses of vaccine supply agreements. If the vaccine is approved, low-income economies participating in the plan may be able to start vaccination in the first half of next year. However, there is public opinion that the global inequality in the supply and distribution of vaccines remains difficult to solve with the limited funds raised by international organizations and a small number of direct orders.
Zhang Guihong, director of the Center for the Study of the United Nations and International Organizations of Fudan University, said that vaccination is crucial to controlling the virus and the epidemic. Whether vaccine cooperation can become a turning point for the global fight against the epidemic and the opportunity for global health governance depends on the choice of everyone.
If the vaccine can be used as a public product under the leadership of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, global coordination in research and development, production, deployment, assistance and other aspects can be carried out, and the best efforts can benefit developing countries, especially vulnerable countries and vulnerable groups, will bring hope in the post-epidemic world.
Conversely, if we continue to “fight separately” and even “politicize” vaccines as a policy tool, there is a good chance that a new “vaccine gap” will emerge in the global fight against the epidemic.
“In the increasingly global battle for vaccines, China advocates vaccines as a global public product and actively joins COVAX, demonstrating China’s technological confidence, strategic confidence and great power responsibility.” Wang Yiwei believes that China gives priority to providing vaccines to less developed countries and implements the concept of a community of human destiny with actions.
In addition, China has actively promoted extensive and in-depth international cooperation on vaccines in multilateral occasions such as the BRICS summit and the G20 leaders summit.
The protection time cannot be concluded yet
According to the website of Spain’s Abésé on December 25, the influenza virus is a master of “masquerade” and has the ability to produce new strains every year to test the efficacy of vaccines: it has a special mechanism to synthesize modules of its genetic substance ribonucleic acid (RNA), just as different plates of Lego bricks can interact with each other.
It is the same as generating different functions instead. According to the report, the novel coronavirus seems to be a stable virus, with an average mutation twice a month. Its strategy to adapt to the human body is to give RNA a large and volatile genome. However, in recent weeks, a large number of mutant strains have been found in the UK, exceeding expectations and raising questions about whether their genetic diversity will affect the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Zeng Yixin, deputy director of the National Health Commission of China, recently stressed that because the novel coronavirus appeared less than a year ago, it is impossible to conclude how long the vaccine can provide protection, but some data show that there is no doubt that the vaccine protection period is more than half a year.
Uncertainty about the validity period of the COVID-19 vaccine may lead to people requiring regular vaccination. But the worrying question is: How many people are willing to get vaccinated? WHO warned back in 2019 that “vaccination delay” is one of the top ten threats to human health.
According to a survey published in the journal Natural Medicine, people’s acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine varies greatly from country to region. Nearly 90% of Chinese respondents are willing to be vaccinated with “proven, safe and effective vaccine”, but in other countries, people are willing to vaccinate less than 60%. .
While everyone wants a timeline for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, McKinsey Consulting suggests it’s still hard to tell what definition the “end” will come into. One possibility, according to McKinsey, is to achieve “herd immunity” through vaccination, and although people may need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 regularly as if they were vaccinated against influenza, the threat of widespread transmission of the virus will disappear.
Another possibility is that only high-risk people are vaccinated, and countries also need to rely on rapid and accurate testing, improved treatment methods and enhanced public health responses to maintain a “new normal”.
“In 2021, people may still continue to live in a world where the virus and vaccines coexist with ‘ice and fire’.” Chen Xi, an associate professor of global health policy and economics at Yale University in the United States, said that in the two states proposed by McKinsey, people will gradually transition from the second to the first.
The role of the vaccine depends on its effectiveness, production capacity and supply chain, and the willingness of the people to be vaccinated, but there are currently problems in each of these three aspects.
The purpose of mass vaccination is to achieve herd immunity by preventing the spread of the virus.
However, Sumia Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the WHO, said recently that the world must remain vigilant for the next six months, because even if a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it will still take some time for most people to get vaccinated, and there will be no “herd immunity” by the end of 2021.