Announcements by Moderna of better mid-term antibody response than initially envisioned, coupled with massive supply chain shortages for the basic materials required to produce the vaccine and store it, I suspect, are gonna result in UGLY behaviors by governments and individuals in the first half of 2021.
The matter we face now is that, based upon assumed clearance by various national drug and pharmaceutical regulatory bodies, total demand for Covid-19 doses to initially inoculate the entire global population may exceed 12 to 16 billion doses (double dosing is required for most mRNA products and may even extend to boosters for viral vector formulations). This dwarfs the potential supply production capability which, based upon current and immediately forecast approvals by the three currently leading developers (Moderna & Pfizer (mRNA), Johnson and Johnson (viral vector)) might only be 2.5 billion doses in year one. That 2.5 billion doses is also NOT available today; it is about 200 million doses monthly, and given the double dosing required for the two leading candidates so far, no more than 110 million persons, globally, monthly can be vaccinated. Do you see the problem? The US alone requires the first 4 months global total output to meet their domestic requirement and those that get vaccinated are gonna start partying like its 1999. How will the remainder of the global population remain patient when they read about vaccinated “favored” persons travelling to Cancun, once again, and returning to normal life, while the non-vaccinated persons remain under stay-home orders in the coldest days of February?
2.5 billion doses vaccinates no more than 1.5 billion persons, based upon the productive capability forecast and the formulations. The imbalance between supply and demand is significant. Further commercial declarations by other developers seem all but certain in the next six months to a year, but that supply is NOT available now and some of the commercial vaccines, I suspect, based upon the viral vector models, just won’t be all that good. People want the best, they don’t want second class product and they will pay. If individuals and governments cannot access the best, most effective vaccines via traditional means, then bribery, deceit and non-traditional methods, such as outright bullying of richer countries vs poorer nations, that is what occurs next.
Individuals hear about the order books. They pull out a pen and paper, break down their home countries’ order supply and think “great, our country has ordered about enough to meet our population and based upon all the “anti-vaxxers” in the media, there is no way that everyone will get the shots, so we’re in the clear”. Just as politicians create “rules for thee but not for me” (Covid-19 edicts against group gatherings, travel bans and restaurant outings are flouted by those with power or privilege), those writing about the potential dangers of Covid-19 vaccines, I suspect, will be first in line to obtain their immunization shots and will endeavor mightily to jump to the front of the queue however they can. Yes, governments are drawing up priority lists for inoculation based upon risk factors. Once vaccines are declared to be commercial, then EVERY Hollywood (Bollywood, Dollywood, etc.) actor, film crew member, professional and amateur athlete, prominent writer, media darling, Tik-Tok content influencer, country and pop musician, airline staff, airport baggage handler, every celebrity chef, well, they are quietly laying plans to get inoculated before the elderly and the medical professionals; because “they contribute heavily to the economy and need to work right away for the global economy to return to normal”. CEOs of corporations, directors, c-suite members, their boards, their VPs, all will bribe for vaccines and claim “well, our corporate insurance REQUIRES that we all be vaccinated under key-man regulations, its not even my choice, I didn’t want it”. When you add up all these influential, prominent, notable persons worldwide, well, that’s 1.5 billion persons alone.
In our present tribalistic, self-aggrandized groupings of vested interests, masking as a holistic society, we are ALL essential workers, we are ALL front line heroes and we are ALL more important than our neighbor, line-jumping isn’t just right for us, we’re essential for the economy to recover, so even though we may be young, powerful, connected and at lower risk, a preemptive inoculation actually represents the “greater good”; they’ll thank us one day for our service. “And, isn’t putting we, the rich, the connected and the powerful to the back of the line, isn’t that a form of discrimination? Well, we’ve got to stop isms wherever we can”.
This is what policy planners are up against, unabashed self-interest: “waiting lists for thee, but not for me”. I can see the meetings now between Hollywood and the Biden Administration: “our multibillion dollar blockbuster schedule DEPENDS upon access to the vaccine, so quietly give us the shots first and we’ll be certain to put your kids onto the fast track for stardom and we’ll also do some public service announcements to mollify the masses while we’re at it, thanks so much, you are a dear”.
What about the Walmart checkout clerk that is tasked with helping hundreds of persons daily, many of the customers mildly sick or asymptomatic, or that Tyson Foods meat packer? Well, those persons will just have to wait: “here, watch the Hollywood public service piece put out by a dozen vaccinated “A” listers, about how being patient is our patriotic duty”.
Coming soon, to a television or computer screen near you: hundreds of youthful to middle aged celebrities, politicians and business moguls of all creeds, ethnicities, shapes and sizes, in every nation across the planet. They adopt a serious face, gaze intently into a camera, roll up their sleeves, receive a precious vial of impossible to procure vaccine and then declare; “the vaccine is safe, I got my shot and so should you”. The public will coo: “how brave, let’s give them a medal for heroism. I guess I’ll get inoculated too, as soon as its available, I hear maybe late fall?” The jaded among us, and I count myself in that group, will view the PSA differently: “those line jumping psychopaths did it again, they WANTED a shot that is needed by the Kroger shelf-stocker, the Walmart checkout clerk, the meat packer, the truck driver, all those who endure real public risk of contracting the virus, all have been denied so that a buff vegan actor, with a standing heart rate of 40, can fool us with misdirection as to their motivation”. Memes of the PSA offenders will explode once the duplicity of the ads are thought through: “I got YOUR shot, so screw you” seems an easy choice to superimpose over stills of the announcers; sadly, internet rage is so much white noise in the psychopathy of the entitled.
There are those that want the vaccine and there are those that need the vaccine. Does anyone believe that there is truly just ONE list?
Needs vs wants aside, a larger matter lies in the order books. Bureaucrats can only place an order, they have limited control over deliveries. Shipments will be fulfilled based upon development grants and loans extended for the legwork, first and foremost. Next are regular contracts that will be fulfilled, unless force majeure is declared to stall delivery. Force majeure is a legal wriggle that enables a company to change dates for matters beyond their control, such as an inability to procure the tiny bottles needed to store the vaccine. The vial shortage looks to be in the billions of bottles for 2021, and production of bottles cannot just be increased immediately. A global spike in influenza vaccine production for the winter season largely eliminated any packaging surplus in storage. So, at some point, force majeure will almost certainly come into play. Those nations that supplied the upfront grants and forgivable loans to fund the R&D for these vaccines have first call on output and supersede traditional contracts; this has been glossed over by the media to prevent panic. Countries such as the US and Germany get what they need first, everybody else is well behind them in the line.
The math looks extremely troubling for worldwide vaccination. There is a massive shortage in approved and to be approved vaccine supply. There is an equivalent shortage in vaccine dose packaging, much of it produced in China. Does anyone feel that China is on board with the western world vaccinating the citizenry, using superior product, quickly? Shortfalls extend into almost every corner of the vaccine chain. These very basic supply chain issues will not be resolved immediately; it is in the national interest of China to hoard their supply of vials, in anticipation of procuring one or two vaccine samples via espionage; then reverse engineer the vaccine, mass produce it in Chinese laboratories and very quickly immunize their entire population in the coming year. The goal of China is to completely immunize their population prior to the west. The west HAS a purportedly good vaccine but lacks the infrastructure to mass produce it quickly. China, on the other hand, has the necessary manufacturing infrastructure, but lacks the vaccine. It will prove far easier for the government of China to steal one single vial of vaccine than it will be for the west to legally procure billions of empty glass bottles. Who do you think will behave in accordance with global norms?
Humans, being who we are, will fall into several camps as delays are teased out and excused in the coming months. Most of us will be quiet and patient; until news is leaked about line-jumping. Those of us sufficiently god-complexed that we believe in our superiority to the masses, will insist, lobby, badger and bully the governments to inject us first and this wreaks havoc with delivering it to those that are truly in need, vs those that just want. Those of us who need it the most, the most vulnerable, the most powerless, we’ll be told that we’re getting it first, but in the great narcissism conflict of 2021 we’ll sit well behind powerful special interests. There is a reason that the armies of many first world countries are being tasked with storage and rollout of the vaccinations and it is to stop people from clubbing their neighbors to death, all so that they can get vaccinated before spring break 2021, because that trip to Cancun is an amazing deal, but is non-refundable. During the toilet paper shortages of early 2020, people engaged in fisticuffs at the Walmart to procure rolls of Mexican single ply, people have been trampled to death over Black Friday TV sales, what will the public do when they learn that the “friends and family policy” towards early vaccination is being doled out by shameless politicians and compromised bureaucrats?
Government procurement agents are already working behind the scenes to advance their national agendas. Moderna, which had initially proposed a vaccine pricing of about $20-$25 per dose, indicated that current new orders might be touching $37 per dose. I think that these prices will be considered cheap in the coming weeks. This has the smell of the N95 mask frenzy of early 2020 and the toilet paper shortages in that same period. Mathematically, the faster a country immunizes their populace, the faster that economy returns back to normal and stimulus ends; gloves are off at the order desks and the public is being fed a load of hooey, in my view, about the ability of the globe to be fully inoculated by the end of spring or summer of 2021. Supply issues and logistics clearly indicate that the first round of vaccinations, for all those who insist on having the best vaccines, will persist into 2022, even for some of the developed nations with supposedly firm orders. And, that’s just the first round.