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Opinion | The Covid-19 Pandemic Didn’t Have to Be This Way

South Korea beat back that potentially catastrophic outbreak, and continued to greatly limit its cases. They had fewer than 1,000 deaths in all of 2020. In the United States, that would translate to fewer than 7,000 deaths from Covid in 2020. Instead, estimates place the number of deaths at more than 375,000.

What happened: When vaccines were developed, rich countries hoarded them.

The greatest scientific achievement of the pandemic may have been the speedy development of safe, effective vaccines.

In January 2020, the C.E.O. of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, started designing vaccines as soon as he read The Lancet study noting the case without symptoms, which convinced him that a pandemic was likely. He then persuaded Pfizer, his initially skeptical investor, to back him.

On May 15, 2020, the United States began Operation Warp Speed, which financed the development of six vaccine candidates. Five of them quickly proved to be highly effective — not at all a given. The first to deliver spectacular results was that produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. Moderna’s quickly followed.

Supply was an immediate problem. Pfizer initially estimated it could make as many as 1.35 billion doses in 2021 — enough for about only 8.5 percent of the world’s people to get two doses. Moderna, a much smaller company, wasn’t expected to exceed that. AstraZeneca’s vaccine, too, would not cover the gap quickly enough.

There also was too little commitment to how vaccines could be distributed fairly around the world.

Instead, wealthy countries that had preordered or financed research got most of the initial doses.

Vaccine production grew, but too slowly. There was no consortium or sharing of resources to ramp up supply. Technology wasn’t transferred to lower- and middle-income countries. Patents were left in place. The W.H.O. initiative to get vaccines to poorer countries, known as Covax, was not able to buy enough doses, and what donations were made were insufficient and haphazard.

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