The Pandemic’s Moment of Truth

 In COVID-19

Now almost in its tenth month, the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic is still wreak­ing havoc on economies and lives around the world. But while the end of the crisis seems as far away as ever, the fact is that we are approach­ing a poten­tial turn­ing point. World lead­ers now have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to seal the deal on a global frame­work that puts inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion above vac­cine nation­al­ism in stop­ping the pan­dem­ic.

The moment of truth was at mid­night on 18 September. That was the dead­line for coun­tries to join the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), an ini­tia­tive launched by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). COVAX represents the best chance we have to pro­vide people in all coun­tries with rapid, fair, and equi­table access to COVID-19 vac­cines as soon as they become avail­able.

The ini­tia­tive has already achieved an extra­or­di­nary scale, with more than 170 coun­tries (rep­re­sent­ing 70 per­cent of the global pop­u­la­tion) already sig­nalling their intent to join. At a time when most coun­tries are under­go­ing unprece­dent­ed crises, gov­ern­ments are eager for solu­tions that will ben­e­fit every­one.

Nothing like COVAX has ever been attempt­ed, and the short time­frame in which it has been assem­bled makes it all the more remark­able. If suc­cess­ful, this will be the first time that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty has come togeth­er to ensure equi­table and simul­ta­ne­ous access to new life­sav­ing pan­dem­ic inter­ven­tions for rich and poor alike.

As we head into the fall, and COVID-19 con­tin­ues to spread, the global death toll is approach­ing one mil­lion, with month­ly eco­nom­ic losses esti­mat­ed at US$500 bil­lion. Under these con­di­tions, ensur­ing fair, uni­ver­sal access to vac­cines is not only the right thing to do. It is also nec­es­sary if we are to bring the crisis to an end. Until every­one is pro­tect­ed, every­one will remain at risk of the dis­ease, its adverse eco­nom­ic effects, or both.

As the only truly global approach avail­able, COVAX’s impor­tance cannot be over­stat­ed. Although there are more than 200 COVID-19 vac­cines in devel­op­ment, and at least 35 clin­i­cal trials under­way, the vast major­i­ty are likely to fail. Historically, can­di­date vac­cines at the pre­clin­i­cal stage have less than a 10 per­cent chance of suc­ceed­ing.

And of those that do advance to the clin­i­cal trials stage, only around 20 per­cent will ulti­mate­ly be approved. Given these odds, even wealthy gov­ern­ments that are cur­rent­ly nego­ti­at­ing bilat­er­al deals with indi­vid­ual vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers cannot guar­an­tee access to a vac­cine on their own.

By con­trast, COVAX is specif­i­cal­ly designed to max­imise the chances of suc­cess by invest­ing in the devel­op­ment and man­u­fac­ture of a large number of vac­cine can­di­dates at the same time. With the world’s largest and most diverse vac­cine port­fo­lio – which cur­rent­ly com­pris­es nine can­di­dates already in devel­op­ment and a fur­ther nine or more under eval­u­a­tion – COVAX will act as a global insur­ance policy.

Under this frame­work, member coun­tries that have bilat­er­al deals will still have vac­cine access options in the event that those gam­bles fail, and the major­i­ty of coun­tries that have no other options will be extend­ed a crit­i­cal life­line. COVAX’s ini­tial aim is to have two bil­lion vac­cine doses avail­able by the end of 2021, as that should be enough to pro­tect high-risk/vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions and front­line health-care work­ers. But to hit that target, we first need the legal­ly bind­ing com­mit­ments of as many coun­tries as pos­si­ble.

After the sign-up dead­line of 18 September, the pri­or­i­ty now is to com­plete the devel­op­ment and test­ing process to ensure that all forth­com­ing vac­cines are both, effec­tive and safe. COVAX will need to put in place agree­ments with drug man­u­fac­tur­ers, so that it can begin deliv­er­ing vac­cines at scale as soon as they are approved. And donor funds will be needed to sub­sidise the pur­chase of vac­cines for low- and lower-middle-income coun­tries.

But even with finan­cial solu­tions in place, the process of distributing vaccines will pose sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges. The deliv­ery of COVID-19 vac­cines will be the single largest vac­cine deploy­ment the world has ever seen, and it will have to be exe­cut­ed at a time when mis­in­for­ma­tion (the “info­dem­ic”) is threat­en­ing to under­mine public con­fi­dence in vac­cine safety.

Though the pan­dem­ic is far from over, we at least have a global solu­tion in sight. COVAX rep­re­sents the best hope that we have for bring­ing a prompt end to the crisis. When people look back and marvel at how quick­ly the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty and devel­op­ment prac­ti­tion­ers respond­ed to the COVID-19 threat, they will be able to point to the speed with which gov­ern­ments put aside nation­al inter­ests in the name of inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion and sol­i­dar­i­ty.

Whatever spe­cif­ic moment future his­to­ri­ans choose as the pandemic’s turn­ing point, there will be little doubt that the cre­ation and wide­spread adop­tion of the COVAX frame­work played an indis­pens­able role in ending it.

Related Articles:

The Fastest Way Out Of The Pandemic

The Politics Of A COVID-19 Vaccine

The ASEAN Post source|articles

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