May 27, 2021
A new analysis released Thursday shows that with an investment of just $25 billion dollars--around 3% of what the U.S. spends on its military each year--the world could establish regional manufacturing hubs to produce eight billion coronavirus vaccine doses in less than a year.
"The sooner we start, the more lives we will save and the faster our world will stop unraveling."
--Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen
The new report by Public Citizen shows that with a minimal investment by the wealthiest nations, enough vaccine supply could be produced to inoculate 80% of the population in low- and middle-income countries by May 2022.
"The global vaccine apartheid is a policy choice," the People's Vaccine Alliance tweeted Thursday.
"We have the means to end it," the group added, referring to the new report compiled by Dr. Zoltan Kis, a research associate at the Centre for Process Systems Engineering at Imperial College London, and Zain Rizvi, law and policy researcher in Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program.
At present, of the more than 1.78 billion shots that have been administered worldwide, just 0.3% have gone into the arms of people living in low-income countries, with high- and middle-income countries receiving 85% of the doses. If present trends continue, impoverished nations in the Global South won't be vaccinated until 2024, experts say.
Global vaccine inequality has intensified the spread of Covid-19, particularly in South Asia and Latin America. While the virus has officially claimed the lives of nearly 3.5 million people worldwide so far, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated last week that Covid-19's true death toll is between six to eight million people, and the world has yet to respond adequately to the public health catastrophe.
In the report, Kis and Rizvi described how "the global community could set up regional hubs capable of producing eight billion mRNA vaccine doses" within a year. As the researchers noted:
In the case of the NIH-Moderna vaccine, for example, we estimate that producing eight billion doses in one year would cost $23 billion. 842.1 kg of mRNA would be needed. This would require 4,620 employees working at 55 production lines, which could be set up in 14 facilities. The capital cost for retrofitting facilities would be $3.2 billion, while the operating cost for the drug substance production campaign would be $17.5 billion. Fill and finish would cost $2 billion.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for distributed manufacturing," the report noted.
While raw materials for mRNA vaccines "currently cost more than materials for other kinds of vaccines... mRNA production facilities can be smaller, cheaper, and faster to establish," the authors wrote. Furthermore, "many more manufacturing facilities can also be retrofitted to produce mRNA vaccines, compared to other kinds of vaccines."
According to the report, "mRNA technology holds particular promise," especially given that its "adaptability... would set up the infrastructure required to quickly address variants and future public health threats," which are already on the horizon.
Currently, Africa and Latin America have 0.17% and 2% of global vaccine production capacity, respectively, but Kis and Rizvi noted that the WHO has said "19 manufacturers from more than a dozen countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have expressed interest in ramping up mRNA vaccine production."
Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen's Access to Medicines director, said in a statement that "we now know what it would take to manufacture enough vaccine in a year and end this pandemic."
"It will require resources and coordination, but we know this can be done," Maybarduk continued. "The question is: Will leaders make the needed, urgent global effort?"
Public Citizen's most recent analysis was released ahead of next week's G7 Health Ministers' Meeting.
"The alternative, for G7 and other national leaders not to put forward a plan of comparable ambition, would squander lives and political stability, shrinking from a defining challenge of our time," Maybarduk added. "The sooner we start, the more lives we will save and the faster our world will stop unraveling."
Last month, a coalition of more than 60 groups, led by Public Citizen, urged U.S. President Joe Biden to spearhead the global inoculation effort by pushing for Congress to appropriate the $25 billion needed to set up regional vaccine manufacturing hubs.
Referring to the India and South Africa-led motion at the World Trade Organization to suspend Big Pharma's vaccine patents for the duration of the pandemic--backed by more than 100 countries, including the U.S.--Rizvi said two weeks ago that "a waiver on intellectual property can further help remove obstacles to production."
Public Citizen's new report dovetailed with an attempt by the WHO to revamp its Covid-19 Technology Access Pool--a program designed to facilitate the international sharing of knowledge and technology related to coronavirus tests, treatments, and vaccines that has so far been spurned by rich countries and the pharmaceutical industry.
"It took us 10 years to make [HIV] antiretrovirals available to low- and middle-income countries, which needed them most," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday. "By then, millions of people had died."
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