Indo-Pacific vaccine rollout could take a year
Global competition to secure COVID-19 vaccines could slow delivery to some Indo-Pacific countries, where health ministers say distribution will continue into 2022.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in mid-December 2020 that most Indo-Pacific countries are not guaranteed early access to COVID-19 vaccines. WHO officials urged leaders to adopt a more long-term approach that includes testing, mask wearing and social distancing.
“The development of safe and effective vaccines is one thing. Producing them in adequate quantities and reaching everyone who needs them is another,” WHO Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai told reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia, The Associated Press reported.
Most Indo-Pacific nations have joined the COVAX initiative, a WHO-backed alliance to distribute vaccines. WHO officials say participating countries should start receiving vaccines by the second quarter of 2021. Current funding levels, however, would only vaccinate about 20% of each country’s population.
“Everybody is going for a finite pie,” said Faisal Sultan, special assistant to Pakistan’s prime minister for health. “The pie is fixed for now and everybody wants a slice of it,” Sultan said, according to BBC.
With more than 10.2 million COVID-19 cases and 148,000 deaths by late December 2020, India is the region’s hardest-hit country. Against that backdrop, Indian regulators were on the verge of approving the United Kingdom-based AstraZeneca’s vaccine for emergency use by year’s end, Reuters reported.
India wants to deliver 600 million shots in six to eight months starting in January 2021. (Pictured: A worker walks past a container that will be used as a vaccine handling and distribution center at Indira Gandhi International Airport in India.)
Indonesia, meanwhile, had more than 719,000 coronavirus cases and 21,452 deaths as of late December, fueling a rapid vaccine rollout. Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised that the government would vaccinate all citizens for free.
Indonesia received 1.2 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech in early December and is awaiting approval to use the vaccine from its food and drug agency. An additional 1.8 million doses should arrive in January 2021 with many of those targeted at health care workers in Java and Bali, Reuters reported. Looking to secure 246.6 million total doses, Indonesia also is negotiating with Pfizer, AstraZeneca and COVAX.
The Philippines also is casting a wide net that includes Chinese, Russian and British drug companies. The country wants to secure 50 million doses to vaccinate one-fourth of its population, with the bulk of those doses arriving by late 2021 or early 2022, Bloomberg reported.
Malaysia wants to vaccinate 83% of its population, Reuters reported, and so far has obtained enough doses to inoculate about 40% of its 32 million people.
Australia plans to begin vaccinations in March 2021, with distribution initially targeting people with increased risk of exposure or severe disease and those in high-transmission settings.
Singapore, which has one of the world’s lowest coronavirus fatality rates, moved swiftly to secure vaccines. In December 2020 it became the first Asian country to receive shipments of the Pfizer vaccine.
Japanese regulators are also reviewing the Pfizer vaccine. If approved, it will be given to 10,000 front-line health care workers in February and 3 million general health care workers by mid-March. Japan hopes to vaccinate its entire population by July 2021.
Like many of its neighbors, South Korea diversified its vaccine supply chain, inking deals with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to vaccinate 44 million people in 2021, Reuters reported. Shipments are expected to start by March.
Thailand wants to inoculate 50% of its residents by the end of 2021 with vaccines from COVAX, AstraZeneca and other sources. It is also developing its own vaccine, which likely will be ready for use by late 2021, Bloomberg reported.
Vietnam started first-phase clinical trials on a domestically produced vaccine in December, with production expected to begin in early 2022.