Is it really very simple to make a COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it worldwide?
The only sensible way we can find our escape from this pre-apocalyptic pandemic is by making an effective vaccine and distributing it worldwide to every corner. The solution sounds pretty simple, but it’s hard to materialize it in reality.
According to the MILKEN Institute, there are currently 123 vaccines in development. Most of them are currently in the pre-clinical stage, as in the very first stage of a three-phase process. A very few of those have made it to the phase-3, which is basically the toughest and longest of these phases. This is the very first time any vaccine trial has reached phase-3 so quickly. Bear in mind, the whole world is collaboratively working on this issue to find a solution as fast as possible. That’s why, almost all of these trials are completing their phase-1 and phase-2 very quickly, thanks to all the financial and technical support they are receiving. Supercomputers have been used to run simulations and develop analysis faster than it usually takes. However, there is no pure shortcut for the phase-3. Few of the trials that made it to the phase-3, they will have to go through this entire process like it usually does. To put it into a number: IT’S GOING TO TAKE AT LEAST ANOTHER 18 MONTHS TO DEVELOP A COVID-19 VACCINE THAT ENSURES PROPER SAFETY AND EFFECTIVENESS.
So, the world is doing everything it possibly can to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in the quickest possible way. However, that’s just one part of the “simple solution” we are talking about. In order to completely eliminate the possibility of COVID-19 infection, we have to equitably provide the developed vaccine to all the 7 billion people in this planet. Of course, that’s extremely difficult. That’s why, the initial goal is to achieve “herd immunity”. It means, we vaccinate an enough portion of our population to significantly slow down or stop the spread. Although it very much depends on the virus, but statistically about 40 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated for starter. To achieve herd immunity, we also have to very strategically vaccinate the population. We have to vaccinate the most vulnerable group of people first: healthcare workers, older people, people with lung disease, law enforcement workers in the case of COVID-19.
Crunching some numbers, we approximately have to manufacture/produce about 3 billion vaccines and distribute it to stop the spread. Now, this is not easy at all even by combining power of all the supply chains in the world. It is approximated that we will be able to produce about 1 billion doses every year for COVID-19 with the current production infrastructure. Making shifts and turns, we might be able to extend this number into 1.4 billion but that would still require a lot of technical efforts and investments. In short, it is essentially complex to mass produce such a big number of vaccines and that too in a short timeframe.
The most difficult part of our “simple solution” is the distribution. I personally believe we are not very ready or equipped for this yet. Provided that the world leaders make sensible decisions, the global distribution of the vaccines might not become a big issue. But, the local distribution will require a lot of work to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccines. We still have more than a year to better prepare ourselves for ensuring a proper local distribution of the vaccines and we should make the best use of it. Following are some rough ideas that I could think of. You will also understand the relevant problem(s) it addresses if you go through them.
(1) Creating a ledger to identify the stakeholders for herd immunity
(2) Design scalable solutions for vaccine storage and transport
(3) Building an (extended) workforce for vaccine delivery
(4) Design and sanity-check policy models which might come into effect to avoid any atrocity
(5) Develop geo-clusters for effective vaccine transportation
(6) Build both digital and non-digital information hubs for proper transmission of vaccination progress
There can be many more if we put our collective minds into it from now on. The process to find our escape from this pandemic is not simple. But, we sure can make it at least a bit easier by thinking and working for it from now.