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Key takeaways from race to finding Covid vaccine

By XN Iraki | November 24th 2020 at 07:45:00 GMT +0300

I had predicted previously that with ingenuity and creativity, a cure or a vaccine for Covid-19 would be available in due course.

The latter came sooner than expected. And it seems in droves. By year-end, more vaccines will most likely hit the market. 

A crisis seems to be the best catalyst for innovations. To buttress the importance of finding a vaccine, the stock prices are going up, expecting better days ahead espoused by growth and profits. 

The discovery of a vaccine in quick succession could be fodder for conspiracy theorists who argue the virus was “man-made” to make money.

This is countered by the fact that China, where the virus was first reported, was not the first to come up with the vaccine.

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Furthermore, the vaccine is likely to be free, with governments preordering millions of doses. I find it curious that we still can’t say with certainty where the virus came from.  

The preordering long before the vaccine trial results shows how governments around the world are determined to end the current crisis that has overstretched public health systems.

It also goes to show their faith in science. Did our government preorder any vaccine?  

The vaccines raise a few speculative questions. Why did it come after Donald Trump lost in the US presidential elections?

Could its earlier release have made a difference in the polls? Two, why was the Russian vaccine ignored by the mainstream media until the West got their two vaccines? 

Clearly, it is more than just a vaccine. It is also about national pride and nationalism.

I am sure the West is so happy to have beaten China to a new vaccine. Noted how the Western media keeps reminding us that a Chinese vaccine on trial in Brazil has been halted?  

The vaccine shows how cooperation across countries and firms can work, reducing time to market.

Did the African Union or East African Community have a joint project on producing a vaccine for Covid-19? Do they have a joint plan on vaccine distribution?  

The more vaccines the better. Competition will lead to better vaccines and reduce prices, which will be beneficial to consumers. 

The different approaches to making the vaccine will generate knowledge that could be handy in tackling future pandemics. 

We are already using knowledge from fighting Ebola to confront Covid-19. Did you know that one of the vaccines can be stored at a higher temperature?  

Guaranteed of a vaccine, the next phase is funding and distribution. How will it be distributed throughout the world?   

Distributing a vaccine is different because of perishability and the fact that you should not discriminate consumers because of their economic status or residency.

We need people in Karachuonyo, Shamakhokho, Kanyonyo, Wajir, Isebania, Lamu, Lodwar and all corners of the country to get the vaccine.  

The shift now goes to managing the supply chain. Could it be cheaper to make the vaccine locally and reduce the cost of shipping it across the oceans?  

A good example is beer, which has lots of water, making economic sense to produce it where it is consumed to stop “carrying water“ around. 

Do we have warehouses to store the vaccines whose packaging is another issue because of the brittleness of the vials? Are they airconditioned? What of the last mile storage in rural areas? Could we make use of existing supply chains? Flower growers have air-conditioned lorries. Can they be used to transport the vaccines?

Are there existing networks we can ride on to distribute the vaccine? Remember health was devolved? Will counties come together to reduce the cost of distributing the vaccine?  

We should answer these questions now that the vaccine is here. If we don’t, the vaccine supply chains will become the new rent-seeking centre.

Economists like being diplomatic by giving corruption the fancy term - rent-seeking.  

We saw what happened with the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators. What of the more precious vaccines? I am a great optimist, but I do not want to hear that vaccines are sold to the highest bidder or have expired because of poor storage. Who will get vaccines first in Kenya? 

There has been a nascent field in health supply chains. The Covid-19 vaccine will test the theories and reality in this field. The governments and citizens have no time for theories, it is about saving lives and returning the planet to normalcy.  

Vaccines are not just about medics, other economic players will play their role.

The good news is that if we can get a vaccine that fast and distribute it to everyone, we can solve many other problems and make the world a better place. 

- The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi  

Covid 19 Time Series


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