The world is weary of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 50 million people, killed over 1.2 million, and is forecast to cost the global economy US$28 trillion (S$38 trillion) in lost output between 2020 and 2025. Thus, all eyes are on the development of a vaccine that could stop Covid-19 in its tracks. Encouraging news on that front has appeared with the announcement that a vaccine developed jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech was 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 infections under phase 3 trials, the companies say. This achievement is seen as initial evidence of the vaccine's ability to prevent the disease, bringing the world a step closer to a breakthrough in the fight against the health scourge. Russia is also claiming that its Sputnik V vaccine is more than 90 per cent effective on the basis of data collated from vaccinations of the public rather than from an ongoing trial.
The speedy development and expected efficacy of these two vaccines, among many others vying for discovery and eventual distribution, do provide a balm to a Covid-19-afflicted world. However, both the timeline of availability, stated to be by early March, and the prospects of vaccine nationalism should pre-empt premature celebrations. Safe transport, storage and distribution also remains an issue.
The coronavirus pandemic still is very much around. Not only did global infections exceed 50 million on Sunday, but a second wave in the past 30 days has accounted for an alarming quarter of the total. Indeed, October has been the worst month for the pandemic so far, with the United States becoming the first country to report more than 100,000 daily cases. A surge in Europe contributed to the rise. Clearly, Covid-19 continues to be an existential threat that must be countered in the interval between here and now, and a vaccinated future that lies at least four months away.
Also, as the vaccine is likely to be made available to the most vulnerable first, it is not the case that everyone will gain access to it immediately. Much will depend on exigencies of production and distribution. For such an essential and scarce commodity, there is no automatic correlation between demand and supply. Instead, the world could witness a display of vaccine nationalism in which rich and powerful countries corner the demand side of the market, leaving the rest to scramble over the supply side. Covid-19 would then be relegated to the global margins and continue to threaten and hinder the growth and well-being of countries in the developing world. Hence amid the optimism, there is a need for caution even with the prospects of a vaccine. Wearing masks and safe-distancing protocols, no matter how inconvenient they might be, must continue to guide the behaviour of all citizens as the world seeks to move beyond Covid-19.