With First Dibs on Vaccines, Wealthy Nations Have ‘Cleared the Cabinets’
And while Pfizer’s vaccines are already flowing to the UK, Canada and the US, it is unclear when they will arrive in other countries. According to an announcement, Mexico could get its first vaccines anytime for the next 12 months.
Clemens Auer, chief negotiator for the European Union, said in an email that his contract with Pfizer for 200 million cans included a “fixed delivery schedule” but that he would withhold the details from the public. “Details don’t really matter,” he said, given the volume of promising vaccines the EU had received.
In Canada, the government has been questioned about its contract with Moderna. The country reached an agreement for 20 million doses in August, with an option for an additional 36 million. The United States announced a deal for up to 500 million cans soon after, and the UK and European Union announced their own deals last month.
The road to a coronavirus vaccine ›
Answers to your vaccine questions
With a coronavirus vaccine spreading out of the US, here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the US, when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary from state to state, most doctors and residents of long-term care facilities will come first. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help.
- When can I get back to normal life after the vaccination? Life will only get back to normal once society as a whole receives adequate protection against the coronavirus. Once countries have approved a vaccine, they can only vaccinate a few percent of their citizens in the first few months. The unvaccinated majority remain susceptible to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show robust protection against disease. However, it is also possible that people spread the virus without knowing they are infected because they have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Scientists don’t yet know whether the vaccines will also block the transmission of the coronavirus. Even vaccinated people have to wear masks for the time being, avoid the crowds indoors and so on. Once enough people are vaccinated, it becomes very difficult for the coronavirus to find people at risk to become infected. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve this goal, life could approach a normal state in autumn 2021.
- Do I still have to wear a mask after the vaccination? Yeah, but not forever. The two vaccines that may be approved this month clearly protect people from contracting Covid-19. However, the clinical trials that produced these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensively when the vaccines are introduced. In the meantime, self-vaccinated people need to think of themselves as potential spreaders.
- Will it hurt What are the side effects? The vaccine against Pfizer and BioNTech, like other typical vaccines, is delivered as a shot in the arm. The injection is no different from the ones you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported serious health problems. However, some of them have experienced short-lived symptoms, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last a day. It is possible that people will have to plan to take a day off or go to school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system’s encounter with the vaccine and a strong response that ensures lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to boost the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slide inside. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus that can stimulate the immune system. At any given moment, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules that they produce to make their own proteins. As soon as these proteins are made, our cells use special enzymes to break down the mRNA. The mRNA molecules that our cells make can only survive a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a little longer, so the cells can make extra viral proteins and trigger a stronger immune response. However, the mRNA can hold for a few days at most before it is destroyed.
When Moderna recently said that its first 20 million would go to the US, Canadian politicians were accused of making their country lose its place. It was not widely known that Moderna had promised the Americans their first doses as a condition of US financial support.
Canada’s Conservative Chairwoman Erin O’Toole introduced a motion asking the government to publish deadlines for its orders. Citizens “deserve to know when to expect each type of vaccine”.
Cans can be promised, but production is not guaranteed
Even if other promising candidates like Johnson & Johnson’s get approval soon and put pressure on Pfizer and Moderna, there is no guarantee that the companies can meet their commitments over the next year.
“People think just because we have shown in phase 3 clinical trials that we have safe and effective vaccines that the cones will soon be fully turned on,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, Head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparation of the global nonprofits leading the Covax program with WHO, “The challenges in scaling production are significant and fraught with problems.”