A Treacherous Road to Recovery: The Challenges of COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Jainil Devani, a first year Medical Student at GMERS Gotri Medical College, Vadodara, India. He is a member of the MSAI (Medical Students Association of India), under IFMSA.. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


The entire world has been writhing, fighting, trying to find its way out of a relentless pandemic that has been raging for over a year. Countries have lost their composure, economies free-falling, and humanity has had to entirely rethink its future. In such tumultuous circumstances, Scientists, geneticists, virologists and countless other experts have banded together and in a mighty feat of fortitude, and come up with not one, but several vaccines for COVID-19. While the research continues on at a staggering, unprecedented pace; researchers, doctors and governments are now staring down the barrel of a treacherous road to healing — one that may hold a host of challenges we need to conquer to achieve immunity and prevail in this battle.

First and foremost, the timeline. Different countries are showing different approaches to the distribution timeline. Some, like India, are starting with frontline workers, while the UK has its first focus on the at-risk population. Others, like the US are still figuring out a laid-out plan, among leadership changes. Under the WHO ACT-Accelerator framework, countries will initially receive doses for 3%, then 20% of the population, ultimately scaling up to full coverage.

The amount of doses available plays a very important role in figuring out the timeline, so does the fact that because of the early deployment of vaccines, it is mandatory to keep the patient under observation after administration, increasing the time required for each patient. Other factors like accessibility, transport, necessity, and more – all need to be considered in developing a game-plan. Each country needs to look at the big picture and inspect it microscopically, to understand what works best for them — and have back-up plans as well. For example, only 2.8 million Americans have received COVID-19 vaccines, far short of the administration’s goal to reach 20 million by year’s end.

All COVID-19 vaccines require a cold chain distribution system, some (Pfizer) more tedious than others (AstraZeneca-Oxford). A cold chain distribution system is imperative to help this vaccine reach rural areas, and inoculate a majority of the population. Governments have been steadily working to develop this, but several developing countries still lack the necessary infrastructure and may require aid.

Trials and efficacy remain a pressing question. Some countries are preferring certain vaccines over the other, based on a myriad of factors. While large scale trials for most available vaccines have been conducted, it is not clear how it will measure up for groups with compromised immune systems, children, etc. — and can these groups be excluded from inoculation if herd immunity can be achieved otherwise.

The Double dosage requirement of all vaccines poses the requirement of making sure each person is inoculated with both doses. If not, the first dose won’t provide complete immunity and be rendered ineffective — losing valuable shots of the vaccine is unacceptable, when the manufacturing (while happening on a massive scale) still struggles to meet the immense requirement.

Other challenges also include preventing misinformation, fake news spreading about the vaccine; encouraging people to take the vaccine; and instructing them that once inoculated, they still need to cautiously exercise all health and safety precautions for the foreseeable future. Strict and robust sanctions will also be required to prevent theft and corruption.

All in all, amongst a plethora of unanswered questions, we must carefully mitigate and navigate this road of immunisation. As medical students, we must spread awareness about the vaccine, curb misinformation and encourage people to get vaccinated in the proper timeline. While the future is still cloaked in uncertainty, we can certainly be hopeful that the vaccine is the harbinger of a brighter future, a future filled with hope.

References

  1. Mills, Salisbury: The challenges of distributing COVID-19 vaccinations — December 8, 2020, The Lancet
  2. Shahidi, Rampal: India’s vaccine distribution challenge, explained in five charts — December 7, 2020, mint
  3. Rao: COVID-19: The logistic challenges of vaccine distribution in India — October 26, 2020, National Herald
  4. Dunn, Bendix: Challenges with US Coronavirus Vaccine distribution — December 31, 2020, Business Insider
  5. Rodgers, Bailey: Covid vaccine: How will the UK jab millions of people? — January 21, 2020, BBC News
  6. Cushing: THE UNSPOKEN COVID-19 VACCINE CHALLENGES – DISTRIBUTION AND CORRUPTION — November 16, 2020, Transparency International UK

About the author

Jainil Devani is a First Year Medical Student at GMERS Gotri Medical College, Vadodara, India. He is a member of the MSAI (Medical Students Association of India), under IFMSA. He also recently stood 1st in a National Anatomy Paper Contest, “iKAL” organised by Saveetha Medical College, Chennai; and has previously contributed articles to The European Sting. Jainil is also a songwriter-producer and his music can be found at: www.jainildevani.com. He can be contacted at jainild308@gmail.com

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