Every country wants a covid-19 vaccine. Who will get it first?

Every country wants a covid-19 vaccine. Who will get it first?

The whole world wants a vaccine, but countries will naturally try to secure a supply for themselves first.

The Chinese company Sinovac Biotech developed an experimental vaccine for SARS back in 2004. That disease went away after killing just 800 people, and the project was shelved. But it meant that when the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, exploded in China last January, the company had a road map for what to do next. Four months later, it published evidence that it could protect monkeys against the disease using a simple vaccine made from killed virus.

By then, though, China had a different problem: not enough covid-19. Its draconian lockdown measures had quashed the virus at home so effectively that doctors couldn’t find patients to fully test their vaccine on. The US had plenty of infections, but tensions between the countries meant no Chinese vaccine for covid-19 will ever be tested on US soil. 

So in June Sinovac struck a deal with a Brazilian vaccine center, the Butantan Institute in São Paulo, to run a large trial there on about 9,000 health-care workers. For Brazil, battered by covid-19, the study comes with a clear quid pro quo. Butantan will pay for the trial and recruit volunteers; in exchange, Sinovac has promised to supply Brazil with 60 million vaccine doses and to let it manufacture further supplies as well. 

Brazil can do that because, since the 1980s, it has carefully protected its ability to study, manufacture, and bottle vaccines at Butantan and at a second center near Rio de Janeiro. “The national immunization program of Brazil has self-sufficiency as a goal,” says Ricardo Palacios, the Butantan infectious-disease doctor who is running the study.