COVID-19 vaccine development is more global than you might think

(Hakan Nural, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: John Letzing, Digital Editor, Strategic Intelligence, World Economic Forum

  • Dozens of COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in clinical development in a wide range of countries.
  • They could help address a glaring global gap between vaccine haves and have-nots.

Cuba has two late-stage vaccine trials, and four candidates in total. It aims to use them to immunize its own population while supplying other countries like Suriname, Ghana, and Venezuela.

Cuba is classified as a “small island developing state,” so some might be surprised to learn that it has a distinguished healthcare history and substantial biotech sector. In truth, the vaccines that are now key to regaining a sense of normalcy are rife with similar incongruities. They were supposed to require years of development, for example, yet some were authorized less than 11 months after the WHO declared COVID-19 a global health emergency.

They’re also expected to net $40 billion in sales for drugmakers this year, yet many countries haven’t yet been able to administer a single dose.

Earlier this week the director-general of the WHO cited a “grotesque” inequity between rich and poor countries in terms of vaccine availability. “As long as the virus continues to circulate anywhere, people will continue to die,” he said.

Vaccine development in places like Cuba could help address this situation.

Cuba recently delivered 100,000 doses of its “Soberana 02” vaccine to Iran as part of a trial. The two countries have each been targeted with sanctions that boost the need for self-sufficiency; Iran started human trials of its third domestically-developed COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month.

Viet Nam’s first homegrown vaccine, “Nano Covax,” is in its second phase of human trials, Turkey began second-phase trials of its domestic vaccine earlier this month, and Kazakhstan plans to start using its own domestic vaccine, “QazCovid.”

In Thailand, researchers aim to begin human trials soon on a locally-developed vaccine that could protect millions of people there and in other Asian countries.

Image: World Economic Forum

North Korea announced last July it was testing a domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidate, though that hasn’t been independently verified.

Around the world, countries rich and poor have struggled to roll out vaccination widely (some argue the only truly humanitarian response would be to make the intellectual property behind vaccines freely available).

Still, good news may be in store as candidates like India’s “ZYCoV-D” and Germany’s “CureVac” are expected to hit the market relatively soon.

Some of the vaccine candidates poised for use don’t require a shot in the arm. India-based Bharat Biotech recently began testing a version delivered via a nasal spray, for example.

Other candidates have been developed using a plant species related to tobacco. Canada-based Medicago’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which deploys imitation viruses created in the leaves of this relative, recently entered into a phase three study.

All of these developments could contribute to a next generation of vaccines capable of tackling dangerous variants – and at a lower cost than what’s so far been possible.

Image: World Economic Forum

For more context, here are links to further reading from the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform:

  • The US and other governments should set aside antiquated hostility towards Cuba – a country that takes a “humanist” approach to healthcare – and support the development and distribution of its vaccines, according to this opinion piece. (In Depth News)
  • Why had Australia immunized just 260,000 people against COVID-19 a week before it had expected to reach 4 million? In part because the UK proactively funded development of the vaccine Australia expected to arrive in larger quantities, and therefore won priority status, according to this piece. (The Diplomat)
  • COVID-19 vaccines are reshaping geopolitics as they emerge as instruments of soft power, according to this analysis – they symbolize scientific and technological supremacy, and they’re also a potential means to support foreign alliances. (Istituto Affari Internazionali)
  • Despite China’s growing political and economic clout among Pacific Island nations, its role in vaccine procurement in the region has been marked by mixed signals and false starts, according to this report. (The Diplomat)
  • The featuring of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in The Lancet last month gave it an international soft-power boost that couldn’t have been achieved with all Russian journals combined, according to this analysis – which argues that the geopolitical ramifications of the vaccine’s wider rollout could be troubling. (Royal United Services Institute)
  • While the UK and the EU remain bound by the complexities of vaccine supply chains they’re divided by emotions, according to this piece – which argues that to many Britons the EU looks to be driven crazy by envy of the UK’s vaccination programme, and may be committing self-harm by dismissing the “British vaccine.” (LSE)
  • Iran has struggled to contain COVID-19 amid crippling US sanctions, according to this report. Officials there now say that once testing of the “COVIran Barekat” vaccine is completed in mid-spring, they aim to be producing as many as 15 million doses per month. (Al Monitor)

On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find feeds of expert analysis related to Vaccination, Geo-economics and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.

Image: World Economic Forum

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