Show an ad over header. AMP

Countries put their populations first in scramble for COVID vaccines

The race is on to test and produce billions of doses of the myriad coronavirus vaccines currently in development — and to determine how they will be distributed if approved for use.

Take three pieces of news from the last 48 hours.

  1. The Chinese government revealed it began an experimental program in late July to vaccinate high-risk groups. President Trump is reportedly anxious to announce similar emergency authorizations soon.
  2. 172 countries (but not China or the U.S.) have submitted “expressions of interest” in the COVAX initiative, which aims to distribute vaccines globally according to need, rather than wealth.
  3. A new poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe vaccines developed in the U.S. should only be made available abroad after all domestic needs are met.

The big picture: It’s increasingly clear that a minority of the global population — likely only a tiny sliver — will be able to obtain a vaccine in the near term.

  • First in line are people in countries that produce vaccines or can afford to buy them at scale — ahead of, say, health workers or the elderly elsewhere around the world.
  • As international organizations scale up their efforts to change that dynamic, governments are busy buying up doses for their own populations.

State of play: The U.S. has helped fund the research behind several leading vaccine candidates, and has purchased a combined 800 million doses of six vaccines, with the option to buy 1 billion more, per Nature.

  • The Trump administration has compared its approach to that of an airplane passenger securing their oxygen mask before helping others, Thomas Bollyky and Chad Bown write in Foreign Affairs.
  • “The major difference, of course, is that airplane oxygen masks do not drop only in first class,” they write.
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The U.K. has also purchased a first-class ticket — 340 total million doses for a population of 67 million.

  • That may sound excessive, but the U.K. has (like the U.S.) hedged its bets between several vaccine candidates, most of which require two shots.

And while the EU has led calls for equitable global distribution, the bloc has simultaneously secured hundreds of millions of doses for its members.

  • Japan has placed large purchase orders, as have countries like Indonesia and Brazil that have less cash to spend but are wary of being left out.

Breaking it down: 2.4 billion doses of one still-to-be-approved vaccine, from Oxford University and AstraZeneca, are already scheduled for delivery by the end of 2021.

  • While most of the leading vaccines are slated for production in the U.S. and Europe, the Serum Institute of India — the world's highest-capacity vaccine manufacturer — says it will produce upward of 1 billion doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by next summer.
  • The institute's CEO says half of those will be distributed domestically, but India’s government is likely to demand even more.

China, meanwhile, has three vaccines in phase III human trials and many more in development, and it says it will treat any successful vaccine as a global “public good.”

  • Most analysts expect Beijing to prioritize its domestic population, though the promise of a vaccine is a useful geopolitical tool.
  • Russia is also attempting to position itself as a global supplier, though it’s unclear whether Moscow has a backup plan if the vaccine it has fast-tracked doesn't prove to be safe and effective.

The flipside: The clearest alternative to a world in which vaccines are hoarded by a few countries at the expense of the others is the COVAX initiative, from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Gavi vaccine alliance and the World Health Organization.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

How it works: A "portfolio" of nine vaccine candidates (including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine) receive investment from COVAX, which will distribute any that are approved to both high- and low-income countries.

  • Distribution will be based on population size, with health care workers and vulnerable people prioritized and a portion kept in reserve to be deployed to hot spots.
  • The groups behind COVAX are aiming to avoid a higher-stakes repeat of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, which was secured almost entirely by rich countries.

Between the lines: The incentives are clear for poor countries, but perhaps less so for the rich ones that would effectively subsidize their access.

  • Gavi CEO Seth Berkley argues that, in fact, it's a "win-win" for rich countries: "Not only will you be guaranteed access to the world’s largest portfolio of vaccines, you will also be negotiating as part of a global consortium, bringing down prices and ensuring truly global access."
  • Some higher-income countries — including Japan and the U.K. — have expressed interest in COVAX while also cutting deals directly with vaccine manufacturers.
  • Given the limits on global manufacturing capacity, those deals could undermine the effectiveness of the global initiative.

What to watch: COVAX hopes to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of next year, though it will need significantly more funding than it has currently secured.

  • There are at least two notable absences on the list of 172 interested countries: the U.S. and China.

Rahm Emanuel floated for Transportation secretary

President-elect Biden is strongly considering Rahm Emanuel to run the Department of Transportation, weighing the former Chicago mayor’s experience on infrastructure spending against concerns from progressives over his policing record.

Why it matters: The DOT could effectively become the new Commerce Department, as infrastructure spending, smart cities construction and the rollout of drone-delivery programs take on increasing economic weight.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden turns to experienced hands for White House economic team

Joe Biden plans to announce Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese as part of his economic team and Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: These are experienced hands. Unveiling a diverse group of advisers also may draw attention away from a selection of Deese to run the National Economic Council. Some progressives have criticized his work at BlackRock, the world's largest asset management firm.

Keep reading... Show less

Kushner to visit Saudi Arabia and Qatar seeking deal to end crisis

Jared Kushner will travel in the coming days to Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a last-ditch effort to resolve the dispute between the Gulf countries.

Why it matters: Fixing the rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf and notch a last-minute achievement for Kushner and the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

Keep reading... Show less

Wisconsin recount reaffirms Biden's victory in the state

The two recounts in Wisconsin requested by the Trump campaign were completed Sunday and confirmed that President-elect Joe Biden won the state, the Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes. Recounts in the state's most populous and liberal areas — Dane and Milwaukee counties — netted him an additional 87 votes.

Keep reading... Show less

Michelle Lujan Grisham is Congressional Hispanics choice to lead Health and Human Services

Hispanic lawmakers are openly lobbying to have New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham be named Health and Human Services secretary, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: These members are now following the example some Black lawmakers have used for weeks: trying to convince Joe Biden his political interests will be served by rewarding certain demographic groups with Cabinet picks.

Keep reading... Show less

Vanderbilt kicker becomes first woman to play in Power 5 football

Vanderbilt senior Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game yesterday "when she delivered the opening kickoff of the second half for Vanderbilt against Missouri," ESPN reports.

Details: "Fuller, a senior goalkeeper on Vanderbilt's SEC championship soccer team, sent the low kick to the 35-yard line where it was downed by Missouri," as the play was designed. Vandy lost, 41-0.

Keep reading... Show less

Map: A look at world population density in 3D

This fascinating map is made by Alasdair Rae of Sheffield, England, a former professor of urban studies who is founder of Automatic Knowledge. It shows world population density in 3D.

Details: "No land is shownon the map, only the locations where people actually live. ... The higher the spike, the more people live in an area. Where there are no spikes, there are no people (e.g. you can clearly identify ... the Sahara Desert)."

Keep reading... Show less

Biden's Day 1 challenges: The immigration reset

President-elect Biden has an aggressive Day One immigration agenda that relies heavily on executive actions to undo President Trump's crackdown.

Why it matters: It's not that easy. Trump issued more than 400 executive actions on immigration. Advocates are fired up. The Supreme Court could threaten the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and experts warn there could be another surge at the border.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories