The West would benefit from giving its COVID vaccines abroad – Israeli expert

The West would benefit from giving its COVID vaccines abroad – Israeli expert

Donating surplus COVID-19 vaccines currently in stock would allow Western superpowers to save more lives than conserve them as is currently the case, an Israeli expert claims in a new theory study games.

If the large Western states have enough vaccines to differ greatly from developing countries in terms of vaccination rates, “ideally for them would be to give away their excess vaccines”, conclude these researchers in a study published last week. in Communication Medicinea peer-reviewed publication.

The team of Dutch, Danish and Israeli researchers used a model from the domain of game theory – a complex area of ​​mathematics – to predict the impact of different choices countries are likely to make in the context of the pandemic , focusing on the impact of donating vaccines to developing countries.

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The study leaves aside the moral or ethical aspect at the international level, reducing the issue to the sole question of Western national interests. They wondered what would most benefit vaccine-rich countries for themselves.

They wrote that “in an unequal world, with open economies, pandemics do not stop at national borders. Countries with higher incomes would benefit from helping countries with lower incomes”.

“Particularly since new variants of a virus are more likely to emerge in vaccine-poor countries, vaccine-rich countries should have a strong incentive to donate their excess doses rather than stockpile them. in their respective territories.

An employee of the National Center for Biopreparations, Biocen, prepares Cuban vaccines Soberana Plus against COVID-19 before packaging them, in Bejucal, Cuba, July 15, 2022. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

Professor Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan, of the Hebrew University, explains to the Israel time that “what we have found is that under the current circumstances, it is in the best interest of the major countries to donate their vaccines because in the medium term – within a year or two years – the cost will be for them, goodless important in terms of lives and money, if we compare this assumption with the one that they do not offer them. »

The United States and other superpowers donated vaccines under the COVAX initiative. But the process has been too long and it is too insufficient, concludes Sulitzeanu-Kenan with his colleagues Adam Lampert, Pieter Vanhuysse and Markus Tepe.

Sulitzeanu-Kenan and his team modeled several variables to assess the appropriateness of vaccine donations to less wealthy countries around the world.

They wrote that the study is significant because the pandemic has been characterized by “grossly inequitable distribution of vaccines.” They expect many populations to be without vaccines through mid-2023 and state that “because 85% of the world’s population resides in low- and middle-income countries, the majority of Humanity remains exposed to continuous epidemics. A situation that increases the risk of seeing additional variants of COVID-19 appear, which could undermine the effectiveness of existing vaccines.

The key to saving lives, according to the model, is to prevent the emergence of new variants. It is in countries with low vaccination rates that new strains of COVID are most likely to emerge, and it is these strains that have the potential to drive new waves of infection that bypass existing immunity and prolonging the pandemic.

Professor Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan of Hebrew University. (Courtesy: Prof. Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan)

One of the questions posed at the base by Sulitzeanu-Kenan was that of the speed of the emergence of new variants. If there were only a few, then the concern might be less, which would limit the scope of vaccine donations, according to the model. But his analysis shows, however, that the variants are now emerging fast enough to mean that rich countries would actually benefit, in terms of risk management, from donating vaccines to poorer states.

Another important variable is the maximum level of immunity obtainable in developing countries. The study concludes that if a vaccination rate of more than 75% of the populations could be achieved in all these countries, the risk of the appearance of new variants would probably be reduced significantly, which would also lower the number of cases – which would be very much in the interest of donor countries.

The critical consideration for countries trying to determine the benefit they will derive from a donation is whether that donation alone will have the potential to reduce the possibility of the emergence of new variants. For Sulitzeanu-Kenan, the answer to this question is unquestionably “yes” for the most important states.

For small countries like Israel, any donation would be too small to have an impact on national interests, suggests Sulitzeanu-Kenan. (He emphasizes once again that moral and ethical issues did not factor into his study).

“It could be the right choice for the big rich countries that can make a difference,” he continues. “It could be the case for the US, the UK, China, Japan – a donation from Israel will not have the same impact.”

Illustrative: A coronavirus ward at Martini Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, February 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

Sulitzeanu-Kenan says that according to his model, international health officials ultimately made a mistake by calling on all countries to donate. With such a far-reaching appeal, no country felt particularly that it was in the spotlight.

“In retrospect, health officials should have approached the United States and the European Union first,” says Lampert. “It would have been better to recommend them to make generous and quick donations, saying that if they did not give a major donation, then nothing could happen and that the others, on their side, would not give anything”.

“This study is theoretical. What we plan to do now is gauge public opinion to see if it might support the policies we are currently discussing. And even before that, we hope that our study can influence policymakers,” he adds.

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