The speed with which Covid-19 vaccines were developed and are being rolled out has been an inspiration. In just six weeks the world has already administered 134 million shots, with a current rolling average of over 4.5 million dose per day. But the unequal distribution of those vaccines is both unfair and unsustainable.
The main challenge has been the lack of any global strategy to co-ordinate and maximise production, and then ensure their swift and equitable distribution to every country in the world.
Given the potential for vaccine resistant strains to develop in any part of the word and then spread globally, the whole world is in peril if we allow this situation to persist.
As more vaccines achieve regulatory approval and new vaccines to deal with new variants arrive, the world must be prepared. Closed borders are not sustainable in the medium or long term.
We need to create a globally co-ordinated vaccine strategy now, bringing together representatives from science, medicine, the pharmaceutical industry, manufacturing, financiers, distribution and logistics to consider how to accelerate vaccine production and oversee allocation and procurement processes with governments.
The pandemic has exposed the lack of resilience in global vaccine manufacture. To tackle this, we need to create capacity on every continent for vaccine production and associated bioscience capabilities.
This will require significantly scaling up support for local pharmaceutical industries. We need increased public financing and improved government facilitation for the expansion plans of existing producers. And we also need to expand Africa’s vaccine manufacturing capacity in particular, as the only continent without this capability, and enable it to make its own biologics, such as antivirals and antibodies.
Governments and global structures should step up to guarantee purchase of vaccines to enable vaccine manufacturers to invest in expanding capacity, including in Africa where this is urgently needed.
Every country will face its own challenges in vaccine delivery, and they should be supported in developing and implementing their own distribution and delivery strategies.
Technology presents an opportunity to make the best vaccination programmes more effective, by enabling countries to optimise and track progress, capturing data which can not only provide vital information about the process itself but build the foundation for reorganising health systems and increasing their resilience to the next global threat.
With a new wave of vaccines and boosters now in development, we now have an opportunity to learn the lessons from the early vaccine rollout and we must take it.