COVID-19, vaccine, christmas and new year

December 14 2020
Mauren esquivel

As of this writing, the COVID-19 virus has continued its advance in the world, the infections are already more than 70 million and the deceased exceed a million and a half. Some countries in Europe have already suffered a second wave which in some cases has been up to 5 times greater than the first wave of February and March. In America, United States continues to break records of deaths and infections; While in our region, where we had managed to stabilize the spread and stopped the exponential growth, accelerated growth in the number of infections began to be registered, and the December holidays could accelerate the spread of the virus (in these first days of December we have had the highest mobility of people in the region since the first week of March).

Graph 1: Weekly average of mobility of people, upward trend in the region.

Source: INCAE calculations with mobility data from Facebook.

These days the mass vaccination program also began in the United Kingdom, this event is undoubtedly a light at the end of the pandemic; and shows the capacity of humanity to generate solutions to complex problems, developing and approving, in 8 months 2 vaccines ready for mass application. But there are also 57 other vaccines in clinical trials, and 15 of those are in the final stages. The development of these vaccines has been a whole process of unprecedented innovation, in which new technologies have been incorporated such as genetic level our immune system can be trained to fight COVID-19.

But although the advances point in the right direction, and we seem to have overcome the scientific challenge of the development and generation of the vaccine; Now we are faced with an unprecedented logistical and institutional challenge: to bring these vaccines to the largest number of people in the shortest time possible in order to be able to return to certain levels of normality as a society. This normality, according to the WHO estimates, will occur when approximately between 65% or 70% of the population have the vaccine.

The logistical challenge to produce and deliver millions of vaccines continuously until reaching the required percentages will require a major level of planning and implementation, it was estimated 8,000 flights in jumbo jet to deliver a single dose to all the inhabitants of the world. And of course, buying the vaccine is going to be complicated, especially in the first months where countries with greater resources they will be able to have them in advance, like Canada that already has enough vaccines to cover 4 times its population; While in Latin America, although Chile and Mexico already have guaranteed access to sufficient vaccines for their entire population, the rest of the countries continue to lag behind, Brazil (64%), Costa Rica (62%), Panama (58%), Argentina (48%), El Salvador (38%), Colombia (23%), Guatemala (23%), Honduras (23%), Nicaragua (23%).

But logistics not only implies distributing it in a massive way, if not doing it correctly with the necessary infrastructure, for example, vaccines from Pfizer / Biontech and Moderna, the most advanced in their development, need ultra-cold chains at temperatures of -70 Co and -20 Co; by comparison, typical influenza vaccines have a cold chain of between 2 Co and 8 Co. Although there is already experience with ultra cold chains with the Ebola vaccine and some animal vaccines; so it is not an unknown process; however, access to this infrastructure is currently concentrated in laboratories, large universities, and pharmaceutical companies. In our region we do not have a large volume of that infrastructure necessary for the required volumes, neither ultra cold nor cold, for that reason UNICEF is leading an effort to map available infrastructure and help developing countries manage these cold chains, which will also be required for other vaccines that are in the development stage.

With these conditions, some countries have already published their vaccination plans, prioritizing workers most exposed to the virus, and also the populations most vulnerable (by age, or health conditions). These vaccination campaigns, due to the magnitude of the task and the type of threat, extend to the 2022. So 2021 will continue to be very similar to 2020, in terms of restrictions, use of protocols, economic consequences, health risks and deaths.

In this sense, given factors such as the imminent risk of a second wave in the region, fatigue due to the pandemic, the festive mood of the season, and the need to activate trade; It is necessary to promote an extra effort on the part of citizens, companies and governments to reinforce the protocols and focus on communicating to people that this year's holidays have to be different, so that in 2021 we do not pay with lives and with greater economic restrictions for Christmas 2020; There is already light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine, but the pandemic is not over.