Geopolitics

What's To Blame For COVID-19 Vaccine Delays Around The World

Delays, reluctance, shortages... the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines across the world has been beset by some recurring obstacles.

Empty vaccination center in Hamburg, Germany
Empty vaccination center in Hamburg, Germany
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

The brand new vaccination center in Saarbrücken, in western Germany, was set up in record time in two old exhibition halls. With a dozen check-in counters, two large waiting rooms with hundreds of chairs, 36 separate cubicles and doctors at the ready, the center has all it needs to welcome crowds of people in an orderly fashion. The problem, as German daily Die Welt reports: No one has turned up.

Only 200 people per day were being vaccinated in the center this week, one-tenth its capacity.

According to the latest daily update from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany has vaccinated around 239,000 people since starting its campaign on Dec. 27, well short of the 1.3 million doses that were delivered by the end of 2020.

It was the Christmas miracle the world was waiting for: Multiple vaccines for a pandemic that had plagued countries across the globe for the better part of 2020. However, the reality of implementing an unprecedented global vaccination campaign has fallen far short of miraculous in many countries.

Inoculating billions of people was always going to present almost insurmountable challenges, particularly so with a vaccine that must be kept at extremely low temperatures and requires a second booster shot within weeks. While many countries simply don't have enough doses on hand, others are facing healthcare staffing shortages; a lack of infrastructure, especially in rural and underserved areas; and growing anti-vaccination movements. Here are some of the biggest hurdles:

1. Distribution chaos: In the United States, the lack of a federal roll out plan has left it up to individual states to figure out vaccine distribution, including who should be given priority. A last minute executive order from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis allowing anyone age 65 and older to get a vaccine left Canada's so-called snowbirds flocking to Miami to be inoculated.

  • The state has one of the highest populations of elderly in the country and many of its 4.5 million seniors are camping out in the cold for a vaccine. As Broward County Mayor Steve Geller tells NBC Miami, "Many seniors are panicking because they think they were promised the vaccine immediately. They were not, but now they feel that faith has been broken."

  • Lacking their own infrastructure, some local governments are even turning to the ticketing service Eventbrite to make vaccine appointments, as reported by Vox. Other medical service providers are using Facebook events and Google Docs in lieu of creating their own appointment systems. While this might raise security concerns (there have been fake Evenbrite pages), it eliminates the inevitable crowds of the first come, first served model.

2. Nobody in charge: Sweden was another country without a clearly defined national vaccination strategy. In an opinion article published in Swedish daily Aftonbladet, opposition party Kristdemokraterna lashed out against Sweden's ruling center-left coalition for failing to act preemptively. Kristdemokraterna warned that Sweden might end up last in line for a vaccine.

  • At the heart of this problem is the fact that Sweden appointed a national vaccine coordinator who doesn't have a mandate to negotiate with medical companies. As Sweden lacks the domestic production capacity to meet the national demand for a vaccine, the country is dependent on international manufacturers.

3. Rural delivery delays: The world's second largest country in terms of landmass, Canada faces unique logistical hurdles in delivering its vaccine. More than 420,000 doses have been delivered to the provinces, but only around 28 percent have been administered.

  • "It's an utter failure when you have three-fourths of our vaccines still sitting inside of freezers," biostatistician Ryan Imgrund, who works with Ottawa Public Health, told Global News.

  • In Ontario, Canada's largest province, only around 5,000 people a day are being vaccinated, meaning it would take eight years to immunize the entire province. Ontario previously had the goal of vaccinating 8.5 million people by June, more than half of its 14.57 million population.

Defrosted vaccines being packaged for the start of the delivery — Photo: Pool Olivier Matthys/DDP via ZUMA Press

4. Safety issues: While India has approved two vaccine candidates, questions remain around their efficacy, especially for more vulnerable populations. AstraZeneca made a deal to manufacture its vaccine through the Serum Institute of India. But a trial participant who experienced neurological side-effects from the vaccine is suing the Serum Institute, while AstraZeneca is facing legal challenges in the UK for cherry-picking data. The other vaccine known as COVAXIN is developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with government agencies and is based on an inactivated form of the coronavirus. The company has completed only two of three trial phases. The third, which crucially tests for efficacy, began in mid-November.

  • Consequently, it is the elderly who will both be the first to get the vaccine and potentially face side effects, as the vaccines weren't tested to see if they prevent severe forms of COVID-19.

  • As Vasudevan Mukunth wrote in The Wire, "In other words, by messing up its validation process, the government is virtually experimenting with the most vulnerable cohort who will receive the vaccine candidates first – people like our grandparents, etc. – while those who are less likely to suffer for it will have it easier. And that is wrong, surely."

  • There are challenges for the elderly in Italy too. The senior population there faces challenges to access the vaccine delivery points. One hospital in Rome has begun to dispatch mobile units of medical professionals to reach the most remote places.

5. Supply shortages: "The problem is that Europe doesn't have its own vaccine," president of the Hauts-de-France region Xavier Bertrand told France Inter, pointing out the failings of the government. "We have half of the French population who wants to be vaccinated. ... when will these people be able to do it?"

  • Bertrand added that he expected France to match the level of action of its British neighbor: "We also have a French vaccine, Sanofi, which must be developed."

  • Le Parisien confirms that the EU had ordered 400 million doses from Sanofi, of which 90 million were to go to France. The company's delay in delivering the vaccine therefore threw a significant spanner in France's vaccination plans, leading some to question the government's choice to "go local" in terms of vaccine production.

  • Additionally, an adviser to Prime Minister Jean Castex estimated that between 25 to 30% of the 200 million vaccines ordered by France were at risk of being lost, according to Le Figaro. 50 to 60 million doses could be rendered useless because of the need to store them at -70 °C, and carry out the injection within 5 days after being removed from storage. The country's decision to prioritize the elderly has also slowed down vaccination campaigns considerably, with nursing homes required to collect consent forms from their residents — a process that can be sometimes very long, as France Bleu reports.

6. Doctor shortages: Vaccination delays in the northern Italian region of Lombardy were blamed on doctors being on vacation. But Giulio Gallera, the region's head of welfare services, warned against hysteria in the first days of the vaccination program. "It's awful to see people ranking those who have vaccinated the most people so far, let's do it in 15 or 20 days," Gallera told La Stampa. "We have doctors and nurses who have 50 days of overdue leave. I won't force them back from their holidays to perform vaccinations. But we will stay on schedule."

  • In Spain, 82,834 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been administered by January 4. In total, the country has received 718,575 doses, of which 360,000 have been received yesterday (despite the campaign starting before the Christmas holidays). The lack of health professionals exacerbated by the Christmas holidays have slowed down the administration of the vaccinations for a week in much of the country.

  • There have also been production problems by the multinational manufacturer Pfizer manufacturer. And then there was the eruption of the new virulent strain of the virus in Great Britain and the subsequent border closures, the unpredictable logistics of several communities, lockdowns, curfews, school closures, healthcare systems being overwhelmed...

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THE WIRE
The Wire is a news website available in English and Hindi, was founded in 2015 in New Delhi. It is published by the Foundation for Independent Journalism (FIJ), a non-profit Indian company.
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LE PARISIEN
The leading daily newspaper in Paris, Le Parisien has a national edition called Aujourd'hui en France (Today in France). The newspaper was founded in 1944 by World War II resistance fighters in the occupied capital.
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AFTONBLADET
Aftonbladet is a Swedish daily founded in 1830 and based in Stockholm. It describes itself as an "independent social-democratic newspaper.” The paper had a circulation of 154,900 copies in 2014.
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WORLDCRUNCH
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
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LE FIGARO
Le Figaro is a French daily founded in 1826 and published in Paris. The oldest national daily in France, Le Figaro is the second-largest national newspaper in the country after Le Parisien and before Le Monde, with an average circulation of about 331,000 copies Its editorial line is considered center-right. The newspaper is now owned by Dassault Media.
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LA STAMPA
La Stampa ("The Press") is a top Italian daily founded in 1867 under the name Gazzetta Piemontese. Based in Turin, La Stampa is owned by the Fiat Group and distributed in many other European countries.
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DIE WELT
Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat


CAUCHARI
— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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