Er … because they bought it? AFP reported last night that some of the poorer nations might not get a vaccine before 2022, thanks to production/sales commitments made to wealthier nations. See if you can spot what’s missing in this lead:
At least a fifth of the world’s population may not have access to a Covid-19 vaccine until 2022, according to a study published Wednesday, with wealthier nations reserving more than half of next year’s potential doses.
With hopes that vaccines can bring an end to a pandemic that has killed some 1.6 million people, countries including the United States, Britain and the United Arab Emirates have already begun rolling out immunisation programmes.
Eager to increase their chances of having access to at least one of the dozens of vaccines in development, many nations have snapped up allocations of several different drugs.
Wealthy nations — accounting for just 14 percent of the global population — have pre-ordered just over half of the vaccine doses expected to be produced by the 13 leading developers next year, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found.
NBC News followed up this morning with a similar complaint. Rich nations like the US are “hoarding” doses of the vaccine, according to their headline:
The U.S., Canada, Britain and the European Union have pre-ordered enough Covid-19 shots to inoculate their populations several times over, subject to regulatory approvals.
In this critical game of medicine logistics — where supply is small but demand immediate and universal — campaigners and some officials accuse these wealthy nations of snapping up orders and hoarding more than they need.
Hoarding? In the first place, how do you “hoard” what hasn’t even been produced yet? In the second place, the US doesn’t plan to “hoard” anything — they plan to vaccinate the entire population. They’re not buying it to keep it in freezers forever.
But even that is a minor issue in a profoundly dishonest approach by both NBC and AFP. These nations didn’t “snap up” vaccines by elbowing their way into line. The reason these vaccines will exist at all in 2022 is because the wealthier nations pumped billions and billions of dollars into the pharmaceutical companies in order to accelerate their development. The fastest development cycle for a vaccine before this was four years, and that was for mumps in the early 60s.
The nations that did this bought tens and hundreds of millions of doses up front without even knowing whether they would be safe or effective, essentially buying hundreds of millions of pigs in pokes and hoping for the best. They accelerated reviews and approval processes to make R&D less costly for the pharmas, also enhancing their speed to final product. That was the entire purpose of Operation Warp Speed, a multibillion-dollar gamble by Americans in the hope of accelerating the path to an effective vaccine. Other countries, notably the UK and Germany, put similar strategies in place with the same goal. Those efforts are the reason why a vaccine exists at all, and likely why it exists before 2022, too. The nations that took the financial risks of that moonshot should benefit from their investment — especially since it took the form of buying those unknown doses in the first place.
Nowhere in the AFP or NBC reports does this extraordinary program even get a mention. That’s stunningly dishonest, and it’s tough to conclude anything other than these news agencies made the deliberate choice to exclude that information from its readers. They wanted a wealthy-nations-are-greedy narrative rather than wealthy-nations-invested-in-success narrative, and so they cooked the story to make sure they got the narrative they wanted.
It’s worth noting, too, that the initial success of the AstraZeneca vaccine appeared to be a good way to get vaccines to poorer countries. It’s cheap ($1.50-$2.50 per dose, estimated), doesn’t require special handling, and therefore is almost perfect for countries with less infrastructure. If AstraZeneca hadn’t stumbled in its Phase 3 trial protocols, we might not even be having this conversation. No one doubts the importance of getting enough vaccines to inoculate everyone, after all. But having made vaccines possible in the first place by gambling capital on untested formulae, no one should begrudge those nations from using the vaccines they already bought and paid for to inoculate the taxpayers that ultimately funded that gamble — and produced safe and effective vaccines for everyone.
Update: One Twitter reader makes another point:
Weren’t this just attacking Trump for not securing more doses?
— Gurgun (@Gurgun1989) December 16, 2020
Yes … yes, indeed, they were.