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Sensemaker: Vaccine stockpiling

Sensemaker: Vaccine stockpiling

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Tunisia’s president removed the prime minister and suspended parliament following violent mass protests against the government’s handling of Covid.
  • The Afghan government banned all movement between 10pm and 4am, apart from in Kabul and two other provinces, “to curb violence and limit Taliban movements”.
  • Tom Pidcock won Team GB’s third gold medal of the Olympic Games in the men’s mountain bike cross-country race, after Adam Peaty’s gold for the men’s 100m breaststroke and divers Tom Daley and Matty Lee won the men’s synchronised 10m platform (more below).

Vaccine stockpiling

Namibia and Tunisia have the highest, fastest-growing Covid death rates in the world. In Uganda and Zambia, over 80 per cent of new deaths are from the virus. The picture may stand as one the worst man-made disasters of our time: many of these deaths were preventable.

Mass fatalities in developing countries have been blamed on global vaccine shortages, but the immediate problem is one of distribution:

  • High-income and upper-middle-income countries procured over 70 per cent of the world’s vaccine supply despite accounting for less than half of its population, according to data collected by Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center
  • It’s not a country’s population size that best determines how many doses it procured, but its per capita income level. The graph below suggests that the chances of a country procuring enough doses for its population diminish sharply the poorer it is. Only a handful of countries outside the high-income classification procured enough doses for their populations.
  • By contrast, Canada can fully vaccinate 196 million people with the doses it’s procured so far – or 520 per cent of its population. Canada’s excess doses – enough for about 158 million people – could fully vaccinate the populations of Namibia, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia, twice over.

At their June summit in Cornwall, G7 leaders committed to donating a billion doses of vaccines to low-income countries by mid-2022. But only 100 million doses have been delivered so far and the world needs about ten times the committed amount to be safe.

Some countries are holding back because their supply agreements with vaccine manufacturers place a limit on exporting procured doses. Others are reluctant because they may need the surplus for booster shots to fight new Covid variants later in the year or because vaccines may be approved for children.

But given the scale of the crisis, leaders should renegotiate supply agreements and reserve booster shots for the vulnerable, not for entire populations, until the evidence is clear on how long vaccines remain effective.

In any case, the best way to keep populations safe is to distribute vaccines more widely. As the virus spreads through the developing world, it gets more opportunities to mutate. With each mutation, the chance of a more dangerous variant increases. The Delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in the UK and the US, was first identified in India at the start of its catastrophic second wave. The Beta variant was identified in South Africa and the Gamma variant was traced to Brazil. They’re all “variants of concern”.

We’re losing the race between variants and vaccines. In Tortoise’s Arms Race campaign, we’re pushing rich countries to share their surplus doses and pharmaceutical companies to send more doses to the poorest countries, and you can help us.

We’re also pushing for better leadership of the global effort needed to vaccinate the world. It will take know-how but also name recognition. For a radical plan to meet this challenge, read Tortoise’s James Harding in today’s New York Times.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Budapest march
Budapest’s Pride march on Saturday attracted thousands of people. More than 40 embassies and foreign cultural institutions in Hungary issued a statement of support for the march. This year, it was about more than supporting the country’s LGBTQ community. The far-right government of Viktor Orbán, the prime minister, recently passed a law that, according to critics, equates homosexuality with paedophilia and bans the portrayal of LGBTQ lifestyles to children. The European Commission launched legal action against Orbán’s government over the law on the grounds that it contravenes European values of tolerance and individual freedom. “The law is an outrage,” Istvan, 27, told Reuters at the march with his boyfriend. “We live in the 21st century, when things like that should not be happening. We are no longer in communist times, this is the EU and everyone should be able to live freely.” Orbán’s opponents say he’s using LGBTQ issues as he’s used immigration before, to divide voters ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

New things technology, science, engineering

Olympic audience
The Olympic Games opening ceremony on Friday received the lowest audience for an Olympics opening ceremony in over three decades, Reuters reported. About 17 million people watched the event on broadcast and streaming media, compared with 26.5 million for the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016 and 27.8 million for the Pyeongchang winter games in 2018. One explanation is that watching the ceremony without fans in the stands may not be as compelling. Fewer than 1,000 attendees were present under strict social distancing rules. But viewing numbers for Olympic opening ceremonies have been in decline for years. Does that have a knock on effect on ratings for the actual sports? We shall see, but for fans of diving and Daley his triumph with Matty Lee on the 10m board this morning transcends numbers. The backstory is extraordinary. Remember, Daley’s quest for a gold medal started when he was 13, touring the world with a lucky monkey. 

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Covid pill
A Japanese pharmaceutical company, Shionogi, which helped develop the cholesterol drug Crestor, has started human trials of what it says is the first once-a-day pill for Covid patients. Along with Pfizer and Merck, it’s racing to fill one of the biggest gaps in our pharmacological arsenal against Covid: a pill for those who are infected by the virus, but whose symptoms are mild. Such medicines – like Tamiflu – already exist for influenza. Shionogi expects trials to continue until next year. Drug trials have generally high failure rates, but Shionogi is confident. “Our target is a very safe oral compound, like Tamiflu, like Xofluza,” chief executive Isao Teshirogi tells the Wall Street Journal ($). He says Shionogi’s pill aims to neutralise the virus within five days of ingestion.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Thunder and lightning
Thunderstorms and torrential rain flooded roads and tube stations in London yesterday. Police closed a road in southwest London, where three double-decker buses got stuck under a railway bridge as the vehicles began to take on water. Drivers in northeast London had to abandon their cars while some residents found themselves in waist-high water in their homes. Barts Health NHS trust, which runs Whipps Cross Hospital and Newham Hospital, declared the flooding at its hospitals a major incident and asked patients to “attend alternative hospitals where they can, to help us put solutions in place as quickly as possible”. Met Office meteorologist Steven Keates said the storms were being caused by a mix of air currents: warmth in the land surface from the recent heatwave rose to hit cooler air in the atmosphere.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Crypto useless
Luke Ellis, chief executive of the world’s largest listed hedge fund manager, Man Group, told the Financial Times (£) that cryptocurrencies have “no inherent worth … whatsoever”. But his company, which manages $127 billion for clients, is trading them anyway because of their price swings. “If you look at cryptocurrencies as a whole, it is a pure trading instrument,” Ellis said. “It is a tulip bulb.” He also took issue with the idea that cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, which is mined, are of limited supply. “You can have an infinite number of different cryptocurrencies,” Ellis said. “Anyone can start another one any day.” Despite having no utility beyond a trading instrument, cryptocurrencies have a real-world impact, not least in the power demands of the servers that support them (but also in the investment foregone elsewhere). Bitcoin production is estimated to generate up to 23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

Tokyo 2020: We are lucky at Tortoise to have an Olympic superfan in our midst, our chief of staff Emily Benn. She’ll be giving a daily Sensemaker update, which we will be styling Emily Benn’s Olympic fact of the day. Enjoy.

Emily Benn’s Olympic fact of the day

Today sees the Gold Medal awarded in the men’s individual foil. This event has been staged at every modern Summer olympics, save one: London 1908. Ironically it is the men’s foil that has seen Team GB’s only fencer at Tokyo 2020, Marcus Mepstead. He fought valiantly but lost a close fight in the first round to Egypt’s Mohamed Hamza, 15-13.

The week ahead

– Northern Ireland eases Covid restrictions; closing press conference of Cop 26 ministerial meeting; Ronan Keating at High Court hearing over alleged phone hacking by News Group Newspapers, 27/07 – Boris Johnson unveils new plan to tackle crime, 28/07 – Steven Gallant, convicted murderer who apprehended Usman Khan during London Bridge terror attack, up for release; UK and Kenya co-host summit on global education, 29/07 – 40 years since wedding of Diana and Prince Charles; Department for Education publishes annual statistics on school exclusions, 30/07 – first night of the Proms; two men appear in court charged with assault of England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, 31/07 – NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens steps down, 01/08 – UK government furlough grant reduced

26/07 – Joe Biden hosts Iraqi prime minister in the White House; Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte gives annual address; World Renewable Energy Congress takes place in Portugal; first deadline for AstraZeneca to fulfil EU’s Covid vaccine order, 27/07 – US House select committee on 6 January Capitol attack holds first hearing; Typhoon Nepartak expected to make landfall over Japan; World Health Organization releases report on global tobacco epidemic; Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft issue quarterly results, 28/07 – Pfizer and Facebook issue quarterly results, 29/07 – Lumberjack World Championships, including axe-tossing and power-sawing events, begin in Wisconsin, 30/07 – Delta Aquarid meteor shower at its most visible, 31/07 – US federal ban on evictions ends

Thanks for reading, and please share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Lara Spirit

Photographs by Getty Images

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