Breakingviews - Vaccine bottlenecks are main obstacle to recovery

A worker prepares cool boxes to be transported by an airplane as Brussels International Airport and its partners prepare a massive logistic operation of carrying new vaccines and vaccine candidates for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) through Brussels International Airport, in Brussels, Belgium, December 1, 2020.

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - A speedy vaccine rollout faces several bottlenecks. Western countries are poised to follow Britain in approving Covid-19 jabs in coming weeks. Fast-tracking remedies for the most vulnerable will allow authorities to begin easing lockdown restrictions. But logistical challenges and educating a sceptical public could yet slow things down.

Britain’s medical regulator on Wednesday said the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was safe to use, clearing the way for healthcare workers and nursing home residents to receive shots as early as next week. The United States and European Union are close behind. Approvals for treatments developed by Moderna and AstraZeneca could follow within weeks.

Manpower will then be the limiting factor. Health providers will need to take care that administering vaccinations doesn’t inadvertently spread the disease. Take England, where authorities reckon they can administer 5,000 jabs a day from 42 vaccination centres. If those centres operate at full capacity seven days a week, they should be able to deliver around 77 million doses in a year. Given that each person needs two doses, this implies 38.5 million people will have received the vaccine by the end of 2021 – close to the 70% of the English population necessary to achieve so-called herd immunity.

Encouraging a fearful public may be tricky, however. Germany is trying to encourage its public with a marketing campaign that highlights how lucky citizens are to be offered one of the rare inoculations. Even so, with polls showing 40% of Americans are unwilling to take a vaccine, getting to 70% will be a challenge.

Deciding who gets what vaccine is the final hurdle. Pfizer and Moderna’s drugs are 95% effective in young as well as older participants. But trials for AstraZeneca’s treatment showed it was only 62% effective, while an experiment with different doses which was 90% effective was only tested on people under 55. Though authorities are unlikely to give people a choice, some may resist a vaccine they think is less likely to work.

After the medical triumph of quickly developing effective and safe vaccines, the speed of the rollout is now the main obstacle to reopening stricken economies.


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