The pandemic has sparked a worldwide race to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. But a health expert has warned that the world might face a risk of “vaccine nationalism,” wherein countries who will produce a coronavirus vaccine will not share it with others.

A vaccine nationalism event could spell trouble for countries that do not have the capability and facilities to develop their vaccines, according to Jane Halton, the former head of Australia’s health and finance departments.

Image Credit: Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

Image Credit: Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

The global race for a vaccine

The global competition to find a vaccine against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is on, with at least 130 groups joining the race.

Halton said that about 94 percent of candidate vaccines fail, but there is a chance that a country or group will develop a COVID-19 vaccine. With so many groups worldwide working towards a jab, the odds of finding a way to stop the pandemic increase.

Recently, a pharmaceutical company in the United States, Moderna, has announced the preliminary positive results of its human vaccine trial. The vaccine they developed produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers. This is just one of the many more vaccines being developed for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Early data provides a glimmer of hope for a vaccine that can combat the coronavirus, preventing the development of COVID-19, a potentially fatal viral infection.

As of April 20, five candidate vaccines are in the clinical evaluation phase, as reported by the World Health Organization. The vaccine developed by CanSino Biological and Beijing Institute of Biotechnology is now in phase 2 of clinical evaluation.

Meanwhile, the other four candidate vaccines are in the initial phase, including ones from Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Beijing Institute of Biological Products, Sinovac, and Moderna.

Vaccine nationalism

Jane Halton is worried that the “we are all in it together” mentality as the world grapples with COVID-19, may disappear if a vaccine is developed.

“If we have vaccine nationalism and one country looks after itself first, and at the expense of the rest of the world, everyone is going to continue to suffer,” Halton, who is also the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) chair, said in a statement.

She added that a coronavirus vaccine might lead to significant calls to supply locals first, which may pose health risks to other parts of the world.

Halton said that vaccine production should be globally distributed and initially target the most vulnerable nations.

“What I hope is that whoever succeeds in this search, the quest for a vaccine, that when that vaccine is developed and is approved for use, that it isn’t used exclusively for the needs of one population. When in fact, the people who need this vaccine are the vulnerable healthcare workers around the world, the elderly, the immune-compromised. And I think that is going to be the very big challenge we’re about to face,” she added.

CEPI is currently helping with ten potential vaccine candidates, including one being developed in Australia, which has flagged prospective human trials in July. It will provide funding to research organizations and has raised about $1.4 billion for the project.

Easing of restrictions

Aside from the threat of a vaccine nationalism, Halton also warned against breaching social distancing measures currently in place as countries are now lifting and easing their restrictions. She said that public complacency about the risk of being infected might potentially lead to a second wave of the outbreak.

She urged people to continue practicing personal hygiene and social distancing, even if lockdown measures are being lifted.

Though the coronavirus is still spreading, many countries have now eased the restrictions, allowing people to return to their jobs and businesses to open. However, the global infection toll continues to rise, with more than 4.89 million people infected. At least 323,000 have perished, while 188 countries and territories have reported COVID-19 cases.