Delivering Covid-19 vaccine to 7.8 billion will be the biggest challenge in coming months, warn experts

Experts believe that hastening the vaccine development procedures could backfire 

                            Delivering Covid-19 vaccine to 7.8 billion will be the biggest challenge in coming months, warn experts
(Getty Images)

With the World Health Organization (WHO) chief recently warning that the worst of the novel coronavirus infections is yet to come, there has been a consolidated global effort to formulate  Covid-19 vaccines in an attempt to put a stop to the rapidly-rising cases and deaths. With a hopefully effective novel coronavirus vaccine in the offing, experts believe that its manufacturing and deployment to people across the world could pose as the next big challenge of this pandemic.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during a press briefing on April 19, warned that the worst of the global virus outbreak has not arrived yet despite over two and a half million infections recorded worldwide. "Trust us. The worst is yet ahead of us," he said. "Let’s prevent this tragedy. It’s a virus that many people still don’t understand."

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks onstage at UNICEF House at an event calling on world leaders to put children first (Getty Images)

Only a few months into the pandemic, human trials of a few Covid-19 vaccines have already begun. Experts, however, believe that hastening the vaccine development procedures could backfire.

"The vaccine development and approval process is a very long one, mostly because both safety and efficacy must be determined in human clinical trials in a stepwise fashion," Paulo H Verardi, PhD, associate professor of Virology, University of Connecticut told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). "Trying to do that in the middle of a pandemic, affecting the research and clinical enterprises and with a broken supply chain, makes it even more challenging. And at the end of the day, the safety of the vaccine will be all that matters, so it is important to get it right.  That may take several months to a year, at a minimum."

Dr Verdadi also highlighted how proper planning and deliberation over the manufacturing and delivery of a potential vaccine is of utmost importance considering we live in a world with nearly 7.8 billion people.

"Assuming a vaccine is approved and shown to be both safe and efficacious, then it needs to be manufactured for essentially the entire population, and we are 7.8 billion people in the world," the expert said. "And people would want to be vaccinated sooner than later. If such approved vaccine were to require a booster immunization, then we would need twice that number of vaccine doses (15+ billion) to immunize the world population.  Therefore, manufacturing and deployment would be the next significant challenge."

Bruno Cassaro de Andrade, a chemical engineering student, works with a test during the method of separating specific proteins to be applied in the production of vaccines on March 24, 2020 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil (Getty Images)

The virology professor also suggested a possible solution to the manufacturing problem, theorizing that hopefully multiple vaccines in varied countries will be approved, which could assist with manufacturing and deployment. He added that different countries and manufacturers may have more flexibility with varying vaccines, which would result in them not competing directly with each other to manufacture the doses. 

"Vaccine delivery will be challenging during a pandemic," he said. "Assuming they can be distributed in an orderly fashion, you still want the best social distancing practices in place, to avoid people converging in long lines for extended periods of time.  You would also want to give it first to those most at risk of exposure (such as healthcare workers), and to those most at risk of severe disease (such as senior citizens with pre-existing conditions).  Consequently, vaccine delivery will take a lot of planning from governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as discipline and patience from the population."

The WHO, last week, confirmed that at least two candidate vaccines for Covid-19 have entered the first phase of human clinical trials, and another 60 candidate vaccines are currently in pre-clinical studies.