The latest news of the Mainz company Biontech and its American partner Pfizer, as well as those of the US company Moderna, are truly a cause for joy. Initial study results suggest that both vaccines, which are based on the revolutionary mRNA technology, have an effectiveness against the coronavirus of over 90 percent. More effective than most experts expected the first generation of Covid-19 vaccines to be.
At the same time, other vaccine candidates based on different immunization procedures are making impressive progress, including the Tübingen company Curevac.
The approval of several vaccines at the same time is within reach. The production of hundreds of millions of vaccine doses has already ramped up. We can have the well-founded hope that we will be able to gradually lift the tough restrictions to contain the pandemic in the coming year. That is a silver lining to our strained patience.
Until that succeeds, there is not only an enormous logistical and medical challenge to be mastered, from the mass production of the vaccine to distribution under demanding conditions to professional inoculation. The “vaccine moment” ahead of us also challenges politics and us as citizens.
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The basic requirement for the success of such an unprecedented vaccination campaign is understanding, trust and confidence in all of us. Still, there is a long way to go back to normal. But it also depends on our insight and wisdom whether as many human lives as possible can be saved.
We are currently thinking about: who should be vaccinated against the coronavirus first?
This is true first of all in our own society. Who should have access to the vaccine and with what priority? Members of the Standing Vaccination Commission, the German Ethics Council and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina have made recommendations on this. Particularly in the first few months, when not enough vaccine doses are available for everyone, priority should be given to risk groups at risk due to previous illnesses or age, as well as health care workers.
If we act accordingly, then many serious illnesses and deaths can be prevented, then we can protect people who are exposed to a high risk due to work. Behind this is the insight that with the right distribution strategy of the vaccine doses, more lives can be saved than without these rules.
It is an even greater challenge to enforce this insight at the international level. Within the European Union, we have pooled our strengths and resources to improve our chances of accessing as many promising vaccine candidates as possible. But almost half of the world’s population lives in countries that do not have the means to offer themselves to manufacturers as preferred customers. The result will be that in poorer, but no less needy countries, only a small proportion of the population can be vaccinated, whereas in richer countries a disproportionately larger proportion.
Almost half of the world’s population lives in states that do not have the means to reserve vaccine contingents
In the face of the virus, we are without a doubt a global community. Covid-19 does not differentiate according to nationality or skin color. But are we also able, as a global community, to give an answer? Then we would have to recognize that it is in our own, enlightened interest if some people in all countries are vaccinated first, and not all people in just a few countries first. This is not just an act of solidarity. A pandemic that is contained in one’s own country but not overcome beyond our borders continues to cost human lives, but also costs prosperity.
Not to mention the risk of the virus mutating elsewhere, which then endangers us again.
The virus could mutate – and hit us again
Germany and Europe already gave important impulses in the spring to ensure fair, transparent and affordable access to vaccines worldwide with an international initiative coordinated by the WHO. By the end of next year, two billion doses of vaccine are to be made available to over 90 middle and low income countries. However, not all of the major countries have yet participated in this Covax initiative as they can.
By signing the contract with Biontech alone, the European Union has access rights to up to 300 million vaccine doses. If further vaccines are approved – and this is to be assumed – this number will increase significantly. Germany and Europe should now give a political signal that they are ready to give up part of these quotas right from the start in order, for example, to protect health workers in poorer countries as quickly as possible.
Now we can show that we are serious about international cooperation
We can be proud that, thanks to the admirable achievements of Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin and their team, a decisive contribution to overcoming the corona pandemic will come from Germany. But it should make us even prouder if we had the insight and wisdom to set an example to the world in this situation. An example of the close and solidary cooperation within our European Union. And an example of how we Europeans imagine a world in which international cooperation is more than lip service, it is literally life-saving.
[Mehr über die Impfstoff-Forscher Özlem Türeci und Ugur Sahin von Biontech können Abonnenten von T+ hier lesen: Das ist das Paar hinter dem Corona-Impfstoff]
Rarely have the “each for yourself policy” and life-saving international cooperation been so close together as in the pandemic
Rarely in human history have the life-saving and prosperity-securing fruits of international cooperation and the cold consequences of a “everyone for himself” policy been so evident and before us as in this Covid-19 pandemic. If we fail here, how can we maintain the confidence that we can win the fight against the much more complex climate change as a global community?
Conversely, however: if we manage to put Covid-19 in its place together and in the whole world in the coming year, then we can start with new optimism to find an effective answer to man-made climate change.
The fact that we can have the well-founded hope in these weeks that the United States will join such an initiative under President Biden should give us an additional incentive to send the right political signal now.