Oxford vaccine holds Pacific potential

The United Kingdom has pledged money towards the Pacific’s COVID-19 fight and is hopeful its development of a new vaccine will reach Samoa by the end of next year.  

Last week U.K. funded research at the University of Oxford and Astra Zeneca revealed results of its phase three vaccine trials, reporting a 70 per cent efficacy rate. 

The vaccine, which is based on older technology than the two other strong contenders from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, will cost a tenth per dose of other vaccines and can be stored at regular vaccine fridge temperatures.

Its Government funding was conditional on the manufacturer committing to sell the vaccine at cost price to Samoa and other developing countries forever and to allow other countries to manufacture doses too.

Samoa’s British High Commissioner, David Ward, believes the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine holds great promise for the Pacific.

While the final approvals haven’t been made yet, the cost and storage features make the vaccine more feasible for the region.

“We think as a Government that no country will be able to resolve its issues with one single vaccine,” Mr. Ward told the Samoa Observer.

“Every country will probably need access to a portfolio of vaccines because they will have different strengths, characteristics and be suitable for different groups.

“Some may be suitable for more elderly groups, some for younger, or people of different ethnicities. Some will have different distributional and logistical problems, some will have different degrees of effectiveness.”

It’s why the Government has put most of its funding efforts into international organisations like the World Health Organisation, G.A.V.I., and C.E.P.I. (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), two global vaccine development alliances. 

It has pledged £1.65 billion (T$5.6 billion) over five years to G.A.V.I. and £250 million (T$860 million) to C.E.P.I., which has said it desperately needs more than US$2 billion (T$5.18 billion) by mid-2021 to do its work. 

Last week, the U.K. pledged another £1.8 million (T$6.2 million) to the World Health Organisation Pacific office, and signed an agreement to continue working together on the COVID-19 response and recovery in the region.

A quarter of the funding is earmarked for Papua New Guinea, and while the rest will go towards producing medical equipment for the other countries in the region.

Its Government has also pledged the highest amount of money so far to the international C.O.V.A.X. facility, run by the W.H.O. to gather money from developed countries to make bulk purchases of any eventual vaccine for the developing countries.

With their contribution of £500 million (T$ 1,724 billion) to the facility, the U.K. is hoping to help vaccinate the entire world against COVID-19 and return to some kind of safety.

“We believe the vaccines are going to be the long-term solution to the pandemic and having access to vaccines will allow us all to go back to normal,” Mr. Ward said.

“No vaccine is effective unless it’s distributed globally. We can’t protect some people, we have to protect the whole world’s population and have immunity around the world.”

And while all three top vaccines are not yet approved for manufacture and distribution, work has begun all over the world to get the necessary manufacturing plants and logistics in place.

Even Samoa has been asked by the regional W.H.O. office to submit a vaccine plan by next month so that it can begin preparing for the eventual vaccination.

Under the C.O.V.A.X. facility, Samoa will receive doses for 20 per cent of its population when the first vaccines are available. 

Other world leaders have said the first people to be vaccinated will be health-workers and frontline border staff and vulnerable populations. 

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