Developing a vaccine is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are currently almost 100 COVID vaccine candidates under development.
During a recent press briefing, Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, explained that “in an extraordinary time like this is the world coming to fully appreciate the need for vaccines … people understand more why it’s so important.”
“If we want to end this pandemic, minimise the loss of life, and return to some semblance of normality … we need vaccines.”
But there is a major risk that once a vaccine becomes available, it will be too expensive or not well suited for low-resource settings. Historically, when a new drug or vaccine is produced, it is first available to those able to afford it.
We cannot afford for this to happen.
“It’s critically important that we have … a vaccine as an exit strategy from the level of crisis we are facing today. It’s equally important that that level of vaccine be available equitably and equally everywhere,” explains ONE CEO Gayle Smith. “That’s a matter of what is just and right, but the fact is it’s also very good science.”
Key facts on vaccine access
This inherent imbalance between need and purchasing power for vaccines is further exacerbated during a crisis. But we cannot afford to leave the most vulnerable behind.
Here are a few key things to know about inequities in vaccine access:
- It commonly takes seven years from the time a vaccine is first licensed to when most developing countries have access.
- It took a decade and a major global effort to ensure regions such as sub-Saharan Africa had access to new treatments for HIV after they were developed and available in wealthier nations.
- During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, wealthy nations were able to lock in contracts with vaccine supplies. This resulted in severe shortages in low-income countries.
- Africa imports 94% of its pharmaceuticals. More than half of Africa’s medical supply comes from the European Union.
- Africa has roughly 375 drug makers, mostly in North Africa, to serve a population of almost 1.3 billion people. China and India serve an equivalent population with 5,000 and 10,500 drug manufacturers respectively.
For COVID-19, we must address these inequities now. Once identified, an effective vaccine or treatment must be made available to all people regardless of their wealth or nationality.
Thankfully, organisations like Gavi are working to ensure this happens. Gavi has committed to providing an initial amount of over US$42 million in urgent funding to 30 countries to help support their response to COVID-19. With its proven ability to deliver vaccines at scale, Gavi will be a crucial partner in the response.
“If the world can get the vaccine piece of this right, we can not only find our way out of a global pandemic, but we can set the stage for a world where we take on those inequalities at the forefront,” explains Gayle Smith. By getting this right now, we would have “a system in place to make sure that therapeutics and vaccines are available to everyone who needs them” moving forward.
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