Hopes for vaccines ahead of Christmas  

By Stefan J. Bos

After Pope Francis urged solidarity, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has asked for a fairer distribution of possible coronavirus vaccines among poorer nations. Her appeal came while several countries in Europe and beyond hope to start with vaccinations ahead of Christmas.

Merkel fears a global race between richer and poorer nations to access COVID-19 vaccines. She urged government leaders at an online meeting of the world’s 20 biggest economies known as the G20 to ensure a fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines among impoverished countries. “To halt the pandemic, every country needs to have access to and be able to afford the vaccine. The funds pledged so far are not yet enough to achieve this. I, therefore, appeal to you all of you to support this important initiative,” she said.

The chancellor made clear she would raise the issue with the global vaccine alliance GAVI. “This short-term assistance is in the interest of us all. And it is also in our interest to improve global pandemic preparedness in the long term. To this end, we need to sustainably strengthen the World Health Organization.”

Merkel warned: “We need reliable funding, better cooperation, and greater independence. And the G20 can provide important, indeed crucial, support in this area. If we stand together across the globe, we can control and overcome the virus and its impact.”

Her comments came while pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90 percent effective. The results are based on an interim analysis of trials in Britain and Brazil of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca.

It is the third major drug company to report late-stage results for a potential COVID-19 vaccine.  Pfizer and Moderna last week reported preliminary results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were almost 95 percent effective. But, unlike its rivals, the AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute, especially in developing countries.

Russia has also been developing vaccines. Hungary announced it would test the Russian coronavirus vaccine after it became the first country in Europe to receive samples of the drug last week. Some Hungarian opposition legislators urged the European Union’s executive to prevent the Hungarian government from what it called “experimenting” on Hungarians.

However, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin seems confident about the vaccines. “Russia is naturally ready to provide the vaccine developed by our scientists to the countries that need them. This is the first registered vaccine, Sputnik V, on a human’s adenoviral vectors platform. The second Russian colleaguesEpiVac Corona, created by a scientific center in Novosibirsk, is also ready, and another vaccine is coming,” he told the G20.

“The scale of the pandemic obliges us to use all the available resources and scientific information. Our common goal is to form a portfolio of vaccines and secure safety for the global population,” Putin added. “This means…that there is enough work for every party and I think that is the case when the competition is unavoidable. But in the first place, we must consider the humanitarian issues and make them our top priority.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who himself recovered from COVID-19, agrees that cooperation is crucial as the world struggles to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.  “It is only by joining forces and working together that we will defeat the coronavirus and build back better from this crisis. Our fates are in each other’s hands,” he said.  

In Britain, news of vaccines came as gyms and non-essential shops in all areas due to be allowed to reopen when England’s lockdown ends. On Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Johnson was to explain the details of England’s return to the “three-tier system” when lockdown ends on December 2.

But in several other nations, such as in Hungary, people remain uncertain whether measures such as night curfews will end in time for Christmas. – Vatican News