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Vaccines vs variants: the race to immunise the developing world

The spread of new Covid strains has made it even more urgent to launch rapid vaccination programmes in poorer countries.

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On a balmy day in January on the outskirts of Pune, a city of 3m people in Maharashtra state, women in saris are sitting on plastic chairs under a humming fan waiting for their first shot of Covishield as the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is known in India.

Wearing a white doctor’s coat, Dr Varsha Gaekwad, who is overseeing the first immunisations of frontline healthcare workers in the country of nearly 1.4bn people, says it will take time for the general public to gain confidence in the vaccine. “Once the health workers are going ahead with it, that means it’s 100 per cent safe,” she says. “That is what the community will see.”

Little in the peaceful and orderly scene in Pune hints at the historic significance of what is, in its small way, the start of the biggest vaccination campaign in human history. As rich countries sprint to immunise their populations and squabble over supplies, a second, equally vital, effort is getting under way: the race to vaccinate billions of people in the developing world.

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