NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Moderna’s success in producing what appears to be a highly effective Covid-19 vaccine is a win for everyone, but especially for poorer countries. The U.S. drug company’s achievement, and Pfizer’s before it, raises the odds that rivals will be able to do the same. The less scarce such drugs are, the sooner hard-hit emerging economies will gain access to them and the quicker their growth will rebound.
Moderna’s success is stunning: The vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing disease. Perhaps equally important, side effects appeared moderate, and all cases of severe infection occurred among placebo recipients. And unlike Pfizer’s apparently similarly-effective vaccine, Moderna says its drug can be stored in a conventional freezer for six months and in a fridge for up to 30 days. Pfizer’s counterpart must be kept far colder, complicating distribution.
Two spectacular results in a row brings up the prospect of more to come. There are 46 other vaccines in clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization, and most target the same part of the virus. That probably increases the chances of further successes. Moreover, the rapid spread of the disease means many trials may finish quicker than expected. Vaccines may soon become plentiful on the ground as a result.
Moderna alone expects to produce somewhere between 500 million and 1 billion doses of vaccine next year, albeit patients will need two shots. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said they expect to produce up to 1.3 billion doses next year. And nearly every other big pharmaceutical firm is readying massive production. The United States alone has ordered 600 million doses from the likes of AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and others.
A surplus of vaccines, especially easily distributed ones, will help the developing world. Poorer countries are more likely to be able to buy vaccines, or be given them, if there is an excess supply in rich countries. Some of the same countries that have inadequate hospitals and limited money to spend on public health are also exporters of resources, whose prices fall during economic downturns. Many of these developing economies are also dependent on foreign capital, which can dry up when investors panic. Add it up, and widespread vaccination will remove a big risk factor from emerging markets.
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