The surge of coronavirus infections in developing countries such as India amid a relative scarcity of vaccine supply means that the pandemic will keep spreading until mid-2022, according to the founders of BioNTech, the German biotechnology company that developed a prominent coronavirus vaccine with Pfizer, who released the first COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the West, reported The Wall Street Journal.
During The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit on Tuesday, BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin warned that COVID-19 will continue to spread unless countries do more to ramp up vaccine distribution in countries like India, which on Tuesday became the second country to record 20 million coronavirus infections.
“We need to ensure really high vaccination rates worldwide. Otherwise, no one will be safe,” Şahin said, adding that the pandemic will only end once the entire globe reaches herd immunity.
“By mid-2022, even regions with high density populations like India will reach a high rate of vaccination and herd immunity,” Şahin, who founded BioNTech with his wife, Özlem Türeci, explained Tuesday, according to the Journal.
He went on to say that over the next year, the world will see “an increasing number of industrial, developing and low-income countries reaching this type of herd immunity just by increasing the manufacturing capacity of the currently existing players and adding new manufacturing sites.”
BioNTech has committed itself to adding more manufacturing sites to better supply shots to low-income countries, and has teamed up with Pfizer for global distribution, except in Germany, China and Turkey. In those countries, BioNTech is operating on its own or is working with other manufacturing partners, the Journal reported.
However, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday called on drug companies to waive their intellectual property rights to their COVID-19 vaccines so that distribution can increase by allowing the vaccines to be manufactured abroad and resulting in expedient distribution, reported Business Insider.
"I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies — when millions of lives are at stake around the world — yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries," Sanders said during an appearance on NBC News' "Meet the Press."
"We have got to obviously make sure that every American gets vaccinated as quickly as possible," Sanders added, "not only do we have a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world, it's in our own self-interest. If this pandemic continues to spread in other countries, it's going to come back and bite us at one point or another."
Utilizing different sources of COVID vaccine may expedite world herd immunity.
Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, argued that mixing and matching shots from different manufacturers could be necessary to more quickly reach herd immunity, a practice with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said earlier this year should only be done with the Pfizer and Moderna shots in “exceptional situations,” reported the Hill.
Still, Türeci wants to cast the vaccination net far and wide.
“The more vaccines we have available, the better…We can obviously mix and match them in principle,” Türeci said Tuesday. “Because at the end of the day, we want to achieve herd immunity. We want to achieve as many vaccinated people as possible.”
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