The Impact of COVID-19 on the Travel Vaccine Industry

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The year 2020 has arguably been one of the most eventful years for the travel vaccine industry in a long time. As the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread economic closures, movement restrictions, travel bans, and changing consumer behaviors, the travel vaccine industry has also had its share of the global downturn.

The global travel vaccine market was worth $5.2 billion in 2019, with a projected growth rate of 8.7% from 2020 to 2027. Although industry players still expect moderate growth in the market size in the forecast period, the reverberations from the coronavirus pandemic may preclude these projections.

Travel vaccines are vaccines travelers receive before they visit certain regions or countries. These vaccines are administered to protect travelers from certain infectious diseases and also to prevent the international spread of an infectious disease to a region or country with a much lower prevalence of the disease. The rise in global travel, rapid technological advances, and the increasing incidence of life-threatening infectious diseases are the key drivers of the travel vaccine market.

The major forces driving the global travel vaccine market are travel requirements that involve compulsory vaccination for travelers coming from endemic regions. For instance, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health requires all travelers entering into the kingdom for Hajj and Umrah from regions with a high risk of infectious diseases such as poliomyelitis, yellow fever, and meningococcal meningitis to present a vaccination certificate indicating receipt of these vaccines.

Other countries and regions like the United Arab Emirates, Solomon Islands, and Saudi Arabia require yellow fever vaccinations for travelers arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission such as Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Chad.

These travel dynamics have, in the last decade, bolstered the travel vaccine business for the leading players like Sanofi Pasteur, Novartis AG, Pfizer Inc., and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals Ltd, which has been further sustained by the growth in tourism activities during this time. However, the coronavirus pandemic has induced a mixture of challenges and opportunities that would influence the outlook of the market.

On the one hand, there has been a massive decline in vaccine supplies by dint of the global travel restrictions, and on the other hand, a potential hike in the production and supply of a coronavirus vaccine.

The economic slump has affected global manufacturer production capacities, while the pandemic-induced collapse of the airline industry has crippled the supply logistics and availability of the vaccines.

In a recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the shortage of vaccine supplies have led many countries to suspend immunization programs. Many countries across the East and Southern African, West, and Central African, and East Asian regions have reported critically low levels of their vaccine stocks for measles, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus, rotavirus, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

In 2019, the UN agency procured over 2.43 billion doses of various vaccines to more than 100 countries to reach mostly under-five children. However, the decline in available flights, widespread lockdowns, and dramatic hike in prices of the vaccines have impeded the agency’s supply and shipment plans. These, in turn, led to a massive drop in revenues for many drug manufacturing companies, inducing a vicious cycle of a continuous supply shortage.

The vaccine makers cite cash flow challenges, impending expiration of vaccines pending shipments, and production challenges for the coming year as short-term problems that may impede the growth of the industry.

However, even as travel restrictions are being lifted in many countries and airlines are remodeling their business approaches to ramp up cargo services, supply remains limited, and the immediate outlook of vaccine supply uncertain.

However, on the flip side is the opportunity presented by the potentially massive demand for a coronavirus vaccine and its effects on the market size in the coming years. After the Chinese government shared the complete RNA sequence of the coronavirus, dozens of drugmakers have teamed up to develop more than 167 coronavirus vaccine candidates, most of which are in preclinical trial stages.

Among the most promising vaccine candidates is the AZD1222 - or the Oxford vaccine, which is being developed by researchers at the Oxford University in collaboration with drugmaker, AstraZeneca. Clinical trials have shown that the vaccine could generate immune responses against the coronavirus, with minimal side effects of the receiver.

Although the vaccine is still in phase 3 of the clinical trials, which determines if it can prevent the coronavirus infection, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced plans to procure at least 300 billion doses of the vaccine if it proves safe and effective.

Similarly, the European Commission struck a deal with the company to deliver 400 million doses of the Oxford vaccine starting from the end of the year. AstraZeneca also announced a $750 million agreement with Coalitions for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi to distribute more than 300 million doses of AZD1222 beginning at the end of the year.

In a similar vein, the European Union signed deals with Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sanofi and GSK, and Moderna for their coronavirus vaccines still under development. Other countries have signed advance-purchasing contract. Tokyo, for instance, secured 120 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine candidate. Vietnam has also registered to buy up to 150 million doses of the newly-approved coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, developed in Russia 

With growing concerns that these agreements may stoke vaccine nationalism and cut poorer nations away from this coronavirus vaccine distribution schemes, Gavi created a new facility that would ensure the fair supply and distribution of the coronavirus vaccines. The organization created the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility to enter into advance-purchase agreements with drug makers to secure the vaccines. More than 150 countries have signed up for the facility, with funding from 75 of these countries and donations from NGOs.

Experts believe the strong demand for a coronavirus vaccine and the ongoing initiatives to procure the vaccine may be the boost for the global vaccine market recovery. However, the scarcity of other vaccines remains collateral damage. 

Health institutions and Big Pharma are gradually teaming up to mitigate the risks related to vaccine production and resolve these challenges to pave the way for full-scale market recovery. Although experts say what lies ahead is promising, the future of the market will depend heavily on business strategies of the airline industry and government funding and support to ramp up production capacity for drugmakers.