Vaccinating the World

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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The leaders of Europe came together with their counterparts in the G7 a few weeks ago to make a welcome pledge on vaccine donations to the rest of the world. Everyone now recognises no one is safe until we are all safe.

Yet in spite of this progress, we are still falling short of the levels of global solidarity required to decisively alter the course of this pandemic. To understand how far we still need to go, it is important to recognise the challenging journey we have been on to this point in the fight against COVID-19.

The science and health-care communities have mobilised on a scale never before seen in our lifetime, taking the fight to a deadly virus that is still sweeping the world and leaving a trail of personal loss and economic devastation in its wake.

This unprecedented global response has led to the development of multiple highly effective vaccines in record time, allowing for more than two billion doses to be administered globally. The vaccination effort has been nothing short of extraordinary. Thousands of lives are being saved every day as a result of urgent and committed global collaboration.

But while some countries have begun to breathe a sigh of relief and imagine a post-pandemic world, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population remains unprotected. Death rates remain unacceptably high, and the continued spread of the virus threatens the progress we have made.

The need to stop the spread of COVID-19, to save lives and to reduce hospitalisations, remains as vital and urgent as ever. That means reducing its incidence everywhere not just within the borders of specific countries. In the face of an evolving virus that will continue to acquire new mutations, a rise in cases anywhere threatens us all.

Moreover, despite our best efforts, the world’s poorest countries are still bearing the heaviest burden. As the leaders of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization have noted, we are increasingly at risk of creating a two-track pandemic, with richer countries getting quick access to vaccines while the poorest are left behind.

At AstraZeneca, we have always viewed the pandemic as a global challenge, which is why we have already shipped our vaccine to more than 160 countries. Moreover, when we established our partnership with the University of Oxford to develop the vaccine, we decided to provide it at no profit, because our top priority was to protect global health.

It has now been a little over one year since we became the first vaccine producer to commit to the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment, a global initiative to impel manufacturers to produce enough doses to protect developing countries. COVAX is a unique coalition. Anchored in a shared commitment to science, innovation, and collaboration, it is driven by a desire to fight the pandemic in the fairest and fastest way possible.

But this collective effort is not nearly enough given the work that still lies ahead of us. To vaccinate the entire world as quickly as possible, international organisations, governments, health leaders, industry, and civil society must do more.

The IMF and others have called on the governments of advanced economies to contribute $50 billion more to the global vaccination drive. Vaccine donations are also needed. In recent weeks, more and more countries are donating doses to COVAX, including many European countries. But unlocking additional supplies will require continued work with other governments.

Those of us in the private sector need to devise new ways to ensure that vaccines are reaching those in need. At AstraZeneca, we do not believe the answer is a blanket waiver of intellectual-property rights under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), as some have suggested.

IP is a key driver in innovation and, as demonstrated by the success of Gavi and its partners, it is not a barrier to increasing production. Moreover, the TRIPS process is no quick fix and could take many months, far too late for millions of people in underserved communities.

Instead, we need an urgent response – this is why we have set out a different approach, similar to what World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo – has called a ‘third-way’, which can get help to the people who need it as quickly as possible.

Our model is a combination of a not-for-profit pricing commitment and technology transfers, offering a more promising way to scale up production. We have built more than a dozen regional supply chains around the world, relying on our own manufacturing capacity but also sharing our know-how with more than 20 partners.

We know from our own experience how important these forms of collaboration are. Many attempts to produce more vaccines will face technical, logistical, and even political obstacles, especially where expertise is limited or trade restrictions create ripple effects through supply chains.

But whatever the hurdles, close cooperation can overcome them. To ensure rapid production and delivery, the industry must show that it can suspend its business-as-usual mindset until the virus has been truly defeated.

Just over a year ago, we came together in solidarity and established the COVAX facility to help distribute vaccines to the entire world. We hope the next phase in the journey will be marked by even greater ambition and collaboration. We still need to reach billions of people, and the world is counting on us to deliver.

 

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