Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Vaccination campaigns: efforts are accelerating


Without making too much noise, China vaccinates millions of people. Where is the rest of the world at?

Global investors have placed much of their hopes for an economic recovery in 2021 on Covid-19 vaccines, but the pace of the implementation of vaccination campaigns varies considerably from country to country.

China, first affected, first exit

In China, where the spread of the coronavirus has been well contained, around 23 million doses have been administered since mid-December, according to health authorities. Thirty million more doses could be given over the next few weeks, on the occasion of the Chinese New Year, which will take place on February 12 and which is traditionally a peak period for travel (but naturally less this year).

The economy has recovered more in China than in most other countries, and authorities in Beijing are now accelerating the rollout of a locally produced vaccine, taking advantage of its mass mobilization capabilities. The annual growth of 2.3% of its GDP has made it the only major economy to register positive growth in 2020. But China is not alone in accelerating the deployment of vaccines: other countries which follow suit. not quickly, like Israel, the UK or the US, also demonstrate superior logistical power or advanced vaccine technology.

Different approaches

However, unlike most Western countries, China initially prioritizes the workforce – those between 18 and 60 years of age – for vaccination. While this provision is mainly due to insufficient clinical trial results for the elderly, one of the potential effects is that the Chinese economy should benefit from a better protected workforce. With the number of new infections having fallen to extremely low levels in the country, older people who are not working are generally considered to be at low risk, even without vaccination.

On the other hand, in other countries like the United Kingdom or the United States, for example, the elderly are among the priority populations vis-à-vis the vaccine. Overall, young people are expected to be patient, in some cases until summer and even beyond. This approach is also justified from an epidemiological and economic point of view, because given the scale of the epidemic in these countries, the elderly face much higher risks than in China. They generally occupy the majority of hospital beds (which are in short supply).

Inoculation strategies are evolving. Initially, the UK government planned to prioritize vaccination of the elderly, assuming the economy could reopen once this protection was offered. But recent mutations in the virus have complicated matters, with higher viral loads threatening to create more super spreaders among young people. British health authorities recently broadened their scope and now plan to vaccinate all adults by the fall.

Another notable difference in China is the almost total reliance on locally developed vaccines so far. China is currently deploying a traditional inactivated viral vaccine, manufactured by the state-owned Sinopharm group, with an effectiveness rate of between 79 and 86% according to clinical trials carried out in different regions. Several other Chinese vaccines have entered the third phase of testing.

Western countries rely mostly on more recent methods. Two of America’s leading vaccines use advanced mRNA technology, which uses fragments of genetic material produced in the lab to instruct the human body to make the antigen. The UK’s leading vaccine, based on viral vector technology, uses the modified classic cold virus (the vector) to stimulate antigen expression.

Inactivated viral vaccines and those based on the viral vector can be stored at refrigerator temperature and therefore have an advantage over mRNA-type vaccines in emerging markets, where distribution networks respecting the cold chain are often insufficient. The mRNA vaccine generally requires ultra-cold conditions for initial storage and transport.

China’s approach to vaccine production plays on its sectoral strengths. The manufacture of inactivated viral vaccines requires high level P3 type laboratories; China quickly built such facilities by leveraging its infrastructure prowess.

The next stage of deployment in China

Workers in the logistics sector, especially those handling imported cargo, are given a high priority for vaccination in China. Indeed, as the number of cases of local origin has remained extremely low, imported goods are considered a significant potential source of infection. Other priority groups are health workers, customs officials, teachers and people working in transport centers.

As vaccine production heats up, deployment becomes a purely logistical matter for China and many developed countries. China has the capacity to deliver doses to half of its population of 1.4 billion by the end of this year. The relatively tight government control over society facilitates the initiation of vaccination programs; its ability to mobilize in terms of epidemiological controls has been demonstrated by the successful conduct of anti-Covid tests for millions of people in a few days in several major Chinese cities last year.

Global deployment

One of the few Western countries with comparable mobilizing power is Israel, where more than 30% of a population of 9.3 million has been vaccinated. Military support played a key role in the vaccination campaign across the country. In the absence of locally developed vaccines, Israel secured a large supply early on by agreeing to share vaccination data with Pfizer. It might be difficult for other developed countries to make similar compromises.

In the United States, President Joe Biden is working to meet the goal of 100 million doses in the first 100 days after his inauguration on January 20. So far, around 27 million doses have been administered in the country, including some 16 million under Donald Trump’s tenure. The lack of a strong mobilizing power in many states is a major challenge.

India, the second most populous country in the world, has launched an even more ambitious deployment plan, setting a goal of vaccinating 300 million people by August. The country has been among the most affected by the Covid virus since it has a toll of more than 10 million infections and some 150,000 deaths. The Gennova Biopharmaceuticals group, based in Pune, has tested the first vaccine against Covid developed in India, and based on mRNA technology. To date, India has vaccinated less than 3 million people.

Globally, more than 86 million doses have been administered in 60 countries, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Currently, Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine is the most ordered in the world due to the laboratory’s high production capacity. At the same time, Chinese vaccines are appearing in emerging countries, notably in Brazil, Turkey and the Philippines.

The rollout of vaccines around the world is a race against time, as mutations raise concerns about their long-term effectiveness. A swift and smooth deployment would help consolidate the beginnings of a global recovery.

Contact: [email protected]; www.fidelity.ch

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