It seems the world is again on a Cold War race to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 as the death toll from the virus reached a new height of 5.45 lakh deaths worldwide.
There are many things at stake in the race right from raking in huge revenue as it is almost sure that any sane individual on earth would want to be jabbed against this killer pandemic.
This means we are talking about at least seven billion doses of the vaccine. No other drug has ever offered the potential of business scope on this scale. And what the scientists are saying – that a vaccine may not have a lasting effect against Covid-19 and that people may have to get inoculated every year afresh - makes that business even more lucrative.
The facts that nobody knows how many years this virus would last, or whether it would at all vanish unlike SARS-1 or Spanish Flu had, make the race urgent.
This prospect of the billion-dollar bonanza has spurred the wild sprint for a vaccine just as the world witnessed with the "Sputnik moment" when the Soviets sent the first satellite into space in 1957 beating the Americans, or say with the invention of lightbulb by Edison that had stunned Europe. Surely, the innovation of a vaccine would wipe out the darkness from the earth, just as lightbulbs had literally done, that has now overshadowed humanity.
In this race for saving humanity, scientists around the world have been collaborating by sharing a huge wealth of information, also probably for the first time in human history. China had, for example, disclosed the genome sequencing of the virus as soon as their scientists could decode it that has benefited the search for a cure.
The amount of preprint research papers (researches which have not been peer reviewed) on the coronavirus available on scientific websites is unthinkable in any other time before.
One such preprint research by scientists at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has made the startling claim that 60 thousand-years-old Neandarthal genes are present in 63 percent of Bangladeshis, probably providing strong immune response to viruses.
However, despite such collaborations, the rivalry has degenerated into accusations by the FBI that China-linked hackers have been trying to steal American research on the coronavirus.
But such allegations did not stop China from being one of the two countries, Britain being the other, to have reached phase-1 clinical trial stage of a vaccine.
The simplistic concern of national pride of being the vaccine provider to the world has led to Germany buying 23 percent stake in drug maker CureVac after Donald Trump had mused about paying the company to shift to the US. CureVac is one of the companies working on developing Covid-19 vaccine.
After the Bloomberg report that the US that funded pharma company Sanofi for Covid-19 vaccine research would be the first to get its vaccines has also resulted in many tumults in the French capital where the drug maker's head office is located. France wants the medicine first, if and when it is invented.
America is also pouring billions on vaccine candidates around the world excluding China under its Operation Warp Speed. For example, US-based Novavax is working at breakneck speed to produce vaccines under a $1.6 billion deal of the Warp Speed and promises to deliver 100 million doses to America, enough to inoculate 50 million people. It eclipses the other Warp Speed deals including that with British-Swedish-based AstraZeneca ($1.2 billion), Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer and Merck.
Such efforts to find a panacea to the great disease that has left the world economy and health badly mauled may inspire hope for many, but the reality may be very different for a poor country citizen. The UN has said that it is a moral imperative that everyone gets access to the vaccine once it is invented. But that does not have any legal binding.
"We have this beautiful picture of everyone getting the vaccine, but there is no road map on how to do it," Al Jazeera has quoted Yuan Qiong Hu, a senior legal and policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) in Geneva.
And that may complicate the case for countries like Bangladesh. The news that America has bought over almost all of Remdesivir, an anti-Covid drug, has heightened the worry that whether the rich world will spare a thought about us if the vaccine finally arrives. That we, the people of the poorer nations, will be vaccinated and get over the heath and economic hardship is all a wooly idea and guff.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is a 20-year old public-private partnership aimed at bringing together markets and philanthropy to make vaccines available to everyone in the world, has made a $750 million deal with AstraZeneca to buy 300 million doses of Oxford University vaccines when it is developed.
But a board memo of Gavi raises questions as to the use of the vaccines.
"It seems that Gavi will allocate rich countries enough vaccines for a fixed percentage of their population, which their "national advisory bodies" will decide. Poor countries, meanwhile, will only get vaccines for their highest priority people, after demonstrating proof," an article in The Guardian by Achal Prabhala and Kate Elder says.
Prabhala is the coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and South Africa. Elder is the senior vaccines policy adviser at the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign
From such concerns and also the gleam of soaring profit have motivated many developing countries to plan their own vaccine production.
The Serum Institute of India has signed licensing agreement with AstraZeneca to acquire one billion doses of AstraZeneca's potential Covid-19 vaccine.
South Africa has started a trial of the vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca to try to avoid being left behind in the race to secure a supply.
Bangladesh, it is hoped, will also get its opportunity to buy 300 million doses of vaccines from China, as one of the Chinese companies have been allowed to conduct trials on humans here.
But the terms and conditions that can secure the crucial vaccine is still not clear. Who will get the vaccine first? Will it be equitably accessed? Or will the rich get it much before the poor?
These are just some questions that need to be settled now.