David Fidler has a nightmare scenario: In three months, China announces one of its Covid-19 vaccines has successfully completed Phase III trials. The World Health Organization is enthusiastic. Beijing doles out doses to countries in Latin America and Africa and those with claims to the South China Sea.
The United States is nowhere to be found.
“If China wins the race, exploits that advantage and we don’t have anything equivalent yet, what do we do?” he asks. “That to me is what concerns me the most.”
Fidler, an expert on global health and national security who has consulted for the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, isn’t the only one pondering what could go wrong in the next few months, as great powers race to be first to get their hands on the Covid-19 vaccine.
After half a year of social distancing, soaring unemployment and unrelenting death, it’s easy to cling to rhetoric about America’s “historic” efforts to find a vaccine to stem the pandemic, to drink in news about “promising” results from early stage clinical trials or predictions of the “high likelihood” a vaccine will be ready for Americans by the end of the year. But health and vaccine experts caution that it is too early to know whether any of the eight vaccines currently in Phase III trials will prove safe and effective at fighting the coronavirus. Of those eight candidates, four are Chinese, three are funded by the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed and one comes from Australia. Some experts already worry some of the most publicized candidates are overhyped.
Which means Fidler’s fear isn’t so far-fetched. It’s very possible a Chinese vaccine could be the first to succeed in Phase III trials. If Warp Speed contenders fail, the U.S. could be perhaps six to eight months behind in developing one. What happens then?