Finally, the good news we all have been waiting for is here. The SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, manufactured by different companies, are proving to be effective in phase three clinical trials as well. In fact, the Pfizer vaccine has been given a green light by the UK authorities already. With these positive happenings in our minds, we must be wary of the challenge that vaccine purchasing and shipment is going to be for developing countries like Pakistan. How many doses is Pakistan going to purchase? And more importantly, how costly Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be for Pakistan? We answer these and many other questions in detail, in this discussion.
Why evaluating costs is important?
We know what you are thinking right now. Every country will purchase the vaccine, irrespective of the higher costs, COVID-19 is too deadly and all that narrative that we keep hearing in the press. However, the ground realities must be taken into account as well. While we don’t have many reasons to doubt Pfizer’s claim about the effectiveness of their vaccine, we cannot deny the fact that not everyone is going to be able to get the shots required for becoming immune to the novel coronavirus. And that is the whole point as well. If everyone, or at least a major section of the community, doesn’t become immune to the virus, the state of global herd immunity will not be achieved. This means that the vaccination process will lose its efficacy by a good percentage.
A look at both vaccines
Now, we are still waiting for more details about most of the vaccines developed by different pharmaceutical companies all over the world. Hence, we are going to focus on what we can talk about with more certainty only. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the most likely candidates for mass immunization programs, so let us talk about these vaccines a bit in this section of the discussion.
Moderna’s mRNA-1273 novel coronavirus vaccine is a messenger RNA based vaccine that encodes for the deadly virus’s spike proteins. Once translated into spike proteins, these proteins and their fragments are taken up by the APC of the immune system i.e. the antigen-presenting cells. What follows then is a T-cell response and B-cell memory development. On the other hand, the Pfizer BNT 162b2 vaccine is an RNA based vaccine as well. These molecules are going to mimic the novel coronavirus’s spike proteins, thereby tricking the immune system into producing the much-needed antibodies against the virus.
Per dose prices set by the companies?
Now, let us get to the business end of things. What are these companies charging per dose? This information is important since it will help us assess the purchasing power of countries like Pakistan. Pfizer has set the initial price per dose at $19.50, which amounts to $39 per patient. This is because each patient has to receive two shots of the vaccine to become immune from the novel coronavirus. Roughly converted, it equals 7000 PKR. On the other hand, Moderna’s vaccine is going to cost as much as $25 per dose, $50 per patient. In terms of PKR, it is close to 8,000 rupees.
Pakistan’s purchasing power?
Now that we know about the dose pricing, it becomes much easier for us to calculate exactly how costly Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines will be for Pakistan. Speaking hypothetically, for a population of 220 million approximately, Pakistan will need the Pfizer vaccine worth at least 1½ trillion PKR. The numbers only go up in the case of the Moderna vaccine. But this is hypothetical of course, Pakistan really doesn’t have the potential to place that sort of order. Given the current financial situation of the country, Pakistan has to make every move with great caution. Initially, the government has set aside $150 million for purchasing the COVID-19 vaccine.
We have mentioned the two most promising candidates in this discussion, but there are many other options to be considered as well. For example, Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine, the Chinese CanSinoBio’s vaccine, and a few other products have expanded the range of choices for Pakistan. The advantage with the Russian and Chinese vaccines is that they will be offered for free at the beginning, which is a sort of aid Pakistan could do with. In any case, the government has not finalized any strategies yet since the international pharmaceuticals like Pfizer and Moderna have not responded to the government’s offers. Hence, Pakistan’s COVID-19 immunization and vaccination program are not likely to start before the second half of 2021.
When will Pakistan start its vaccination program?
We know we have just answered this question in the previous section, but we need to explain why it can be delayed even further. Well, considering that Pakistan does not have the state of the art cold chain storage infrastructure that is a must for vaccine shipment and storage, we can expect why Pfizer’s vaccine will take a little longer to arrive in Pakistan. The temperature required for Pfizer’s vaccine is -70 degrees at the very minimum. As per the government officials, people will have to come to the special immunization centers for vaccination, all by themselves since the vaccine cannot be taken out of the cold storage for too long. Hence, unless the proper infrastructure is developed, there will be no point in purchasing the vaccine no matter how badly the people need it.
Well, folks that will be all from this discussion. Everyone is banking their hopes on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, but these magical solutions are not going to be affordable for everyone. And while Pakistan is already fighting one evil virus i.e. polio via its mass immunization program, countering the challenge of SARS-CoV-2 will be a tough job as well. Hence, at this point, wearing a mask and following social distancing SOP seems to be the best shot we got as compared to the costly Moderna and Pfizer vaccine shots. You can save hundreds of lives all by wearing a mask!