A billion shots of vaccine

The featured photo has 480,000 pixels. Imagine 2084 copies of this picture. The number of pixels in that collection would be around a billion. It is a staggering number. But the human population of the world is almost eight times that much. That is the amount of COVID-19 vaccine that must be produced for everyone in the world to be immunized. That is if the vaccine is perfect. If you need booster shots, or multiple doses, then the problem multiplies.

A news article in Nature tells us how the world plans to produce enough vaccine. The case study in the article is what is being called the Oxford vaccine, with a placeholder of a name: AZD1222. An Indian company called The Serum Institute has tied up with AstraZeneca (and Johnson&Johnson) to market the vaccine. The vaccine is still under Phase III trials, but the company has already created a stockpile of about a million doses in anticipation of clearances. The Gavi Foundation is underwriting the bet on this vaccine for the developing world.

I want to get back to numbers again. The company says that it can produce 60 million doses of this vaccine every month by taking away capacity for other vaccines (so expect tuberculosis and childhood vaccinations to take a back seat). Half of these vaccines will be given to the government of India. The other half will go to the rest of the developing world. India has about 10,000 hospitals, perhaps triple that number of health care centers if you include other clinics. So each will get an average of 100 shots of vaccine a month. Do expect shortages. At this rate it will take 4 years for every Indian to get one dose of this vaccine.

I suppose things may be easier, because if the vaccine works then production will be scaled up. On the other hand, if we need booster shots, then you may have not get it in time. If I want to travel, then I still need to consider risks, because other diseases would have burgeoned in the shadow of COVID-19. Much better to think past our fears, and plan out how to live a life in the presence of a new killer disease.