A panel titled Meeting the Challenge of Vaccine Equity discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine equity around the world at a virtual meeting Tuesday of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Addressing the issue, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said “what we have seen over the last few years is the collapse of global cooperation and solidarity” in terms of the pandemic.
“I think there is absolutely no reason why the continent of Africa should be lagging behind with having (only) 7% of the population fully immunized. The continent of 1.2 billion people…It is totally unacceptable,” said Nkengasong, adding “we have to be optimistic for the future but certainly take lessons from the past.”
“We remain optimistic in Africa that as a continent, we should strive to get to the 70% target. We really have to bring all forces, to bring increased global cooperation, partnership, solidarity and coordination to try to move from where we are to 70%,” he added.
“Greater cooperation, greater solidarity is the route to ending this pandemic, whether we end it in 2022 or 2023.”
For her part, Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, said that “at the moment, inequality is a higher predictor of COVID deaths than age,” according to a survey by The Economist.
“That demonstrates that we could have actually prevented many of those deaths. We have 5.5 million deaths, and if we had a different system of approaching this from the beginning, things would have changed,” said Bucher.
She said that ending the pandemic by the end of the year would be possible if the model is changed.
Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said they are not actually behind in vaccine distribution to COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) countries and they met the targeted 950 million doses of vaccines to AMC countries by the end of 2021.
“Now in terms of getting vaccines out, the first vaccine went to a developing country 39 days after the first vaccine in high-income countries. That's never been done before. But then we hit barrier after barrier. We had export bans. We had vaccine nationalism, we had companies not meeting their requirements to put doses forth,” said Berkley.
“The original plan we put out was to have every high-risk person in the world vaccinated at the same time as every health worker and then moving to low-risk people. And of course, that's not what happened,” he added.
Berkley also voiced concern over “inequality 2.0” if there are new variant vaccines.
“So we have to be careful that that doesn't happen. And we have to make sure that the supply chain stays open.”
Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said vaccines are the central pillar to fight the pandemic and there is no way out without it.
Ryan said the current crisis and public health emergency requires a multilateral response, as it is a “global existential threat” to lives, societies and economies.
“We need a multilateral, transnational solution with public-private engagement to find a robust mechanism. And a robust mechanism means not only to finish this pandemic, because what we come out of in this pandemic will be what we take into the next one. And therefore, the lessons we learn now will define our performance in the next pandemic,” he said.
“We also have a responsibility to come out of this pandemic with the skill and infrastructure that we need for the next one. That's our best chance of being ready,” he added.
Ryan said the world is coming closer to a 70% vaccination goal and the science and innovation have worked, adding vaccines are both protecting the most vulnerable population and “giving us the best chance to end the public health emergency.”
“Because, at the end of the day, this virus will continue to transmit. This virus will be around for a very long time,” he added.