Despite Russia’s recent announcement of a ‘working vaccine’, no coronavirus vaccine has proven its efficacy and safety in large-scale trials yet. Nevertheless, billions of doses have been preordered.
There are already 29 vaccines in clinical trials, with 6 of them (two Chinese, two American, one European, one Australian) currently in large-scale Phase 3 trials that involve thousands of people. The Russian vaccine has also reportedly just started Phase 3 trials (despite receiving Russian ‘regulatory approval’, the Russian vaccine hasn’t passed large-scale trials yet and the published information is unconvincing at this moment).
Understandably, countries around the world want to get their hands on vaccine doses as quickly as possible. Especially since manufacturing and distributing hundreds of millions of doses can take a long time, governments are doing their best to cut in line and preorder vaccines. Countries are also hedging bets, pre-buying vaccines from multiple developers.
The European Union (minus the UK) has already secured a combined total of 700 million doses from two vaccine developers: AstraZeneca and Sanofi/GSK. Because of Brexit, the UK had to negotiate a second agreement, preordering 250 million doses from 4 developers.
The US has invested more funding than any other nation into developing a vaccine, signing contracts with five developers (Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizer, Sanofi and AstraZeneca) for a combined total of 700 million doses. Japan is also counting on 490 million doses from three suppliers, including 250 million from Novavax in the US (Japanese pharma giant Takeda bought the rights to a Novavax vaccine for Japan to be produced locally).
Brazil also ordered 100 million doses from AstraZeneca and 120 million from China’s Sinovac, already undergoing testing in Brazil. Meanwhile, China itself has not announced too many international partnerships despite having two candidates in large-scale (from companies Sinovac and Sinopharm), presumably prioritizing its own population. Just one other potential partnership has been announced with Indonesia.
Russian authorities claim that they’ve already received one billion orders from 20 countries, but this claim has not been substantiated and remains as unclear as the vaccine itself.
Another big buyer is the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), launched in 2017 by Norway, India, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. CEPI has preordered 300 million doses from AstraZeneca for developing countries, ensuring that there is “equitable access” to vaccines.
Separately, Novavax and AstraZeneca have agreed to produce a billion doses each for India and other developing countries. The Serum Institute of India (SII) is also in talks for the distribution of billions of doses in the Indian area.
The coronavirus vaccine is an unprecedented endeavor in many ways. Never before has a vaccine progressed so quickly on so many different fronts, and never before has there been such a short-term impetus to develop, produce, and distribute medical products.
Even if the most advanced trials are successful, we’re still looking at a vaccine at some point in 2021 at the earliest — for now, at least, the vaccine won’t be the pandemic silver bullet some hope it to be.