Dr. Seth Berkley
A COVID-19 vaccine is only the start to beating the pandemic. The world has to think about production and distribution all over the world.
According to mounting evidence, COVID-19 immunization will soon see people across the United States to get vaccinated against the virus. However, despite being an important turning point, it does not signal the beginning of the end of this crisis. Only when people across the globe are protected can we finally resume our normal lives. Given huge demand and limited supply of vaccines, how can we return to normality as quickly as possible?
If left to market dynamics, we could repeat the results of the last pandemic: 2009’s swine flu. Back then, vaccines were quickly developed to deal with what, at the time, looked like an uncontrollable outbreak. Countries began a bidding war to reserve doses of the vaccine. Very quickly, the wealthiest countries bought up the entire global supply before any vaccine had even been produced, leaving the rest of the world waiting for scraps.
Times are changing
This time, things will be different. For the first time in history, we have a truly global solution to a global pandemic. COVAX, a new global effort, is planning to roll out 2 billion doses of the new vaccines by the end of 2021, making sure no country is left at the back of the queue.
Led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organization, COVAX has created one of the largest coalitions of countries the world has seen: 189 countries in total, from Japan to Niger, Brazil to Bangladesh. The coalition is propelled by one reality: Until everybody is safe, nobody is safe from this disease. All participating economies will procure vaccines through a special procurement mechanism called the COVAX Facility.
It’s an unprecedented effort, helping us all return to normality while saving more lives. According to a study from Northeastern University, if we used an initial 2 billion doses to vaccinate people in all countries rather than just those living in high income countries, we would almost double the lives saved.
We now have two challenges ahead of us. The first is quickly securing the doses needed to vaccinate the most vulnerable in every country. Our target is two billion doses by the end of 2021, roughly split between higher-income economies (which will pay for their own doses) and lower-income economies (which will receive subsidies from richer nations).
We already have hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, and Novavax vaccine candidates secured. We are also advancing negotiations with other manufacturers with promising results.
Now, we need other manufacturers who share our vision to step up their production to ensure we reach our target. To end the acute phase of this pandemic, we need deals that ensure affordability and availability for an early delivery in 2021.
Secondly, we need to secure funds to help countries that can’t afford these vaccines. Thanks to the generosity of richer governments, we have reached our initial fundraising target of $2 billion to reserve and accelerate doses. We now need a further $5 billion to procure them in 2021.
This should not be seen as handouts for poorer countries. This is an investment in a global solution to this global pandemic. We are recognizing that this disease does not respect borders. Global collaboration is our best and only path to defeat the pandemic. A successful, fully funded COVAX effort could mark the beginning of the end of this pandemic.