Friday July 01, 2022

A vaccine summit

April 13, 2021

Getting the world vaccinated is not about some feel-good gestures, like a few billion dollars for COVAX, the Bill Gates-inspired initiative to make vaccines available in developing countries. It means pulling out all the stops to produce and distribute billions of vaccines as quickly as possible.

To do this, we need the cooperation of the whole world and the elimination of all the barriers to the production and distribution of vaccines. My model here is the bad science fiction movies of the 1950s. When the world was facing an alien invasion, the president of the United States would always call his counterpart in the Soviet Union and agree to a common effort to save humanity. We need to do the same now.

To my view, this means a vaccine summit, which would include Russia and China. We need to produce and distribute vaccines around the world as quickly as possible. That means using every vaccine that has been shown to be safe and effective. Russia has at least one at this point and China has four. Both countries are working on developing more vaccines, as are India, Iran, and Cuba. As soon as a vaccine is shown to meet world standards, we should be producing as much of it as possible and distributing it as quickly as possible.

This will require more transparency of clinical trial results, an area where China’s vaccine manufacturers have failed badly and even US-European manufacturers have been far from perfect. We need to know how effective each vaccine is against each variant and have a clear understanding of possible side effects.

I’ve heard people assert that China will never be open about its results. That could be true, but why not test the claim? There is a lot at stake here.

We also need transparency about production processes so that the technology to manufacture vaccines is freely available for anyone who can use it. The pharmaceutical industry group has been anxious to assert that there is no possible way to increase the production of their vaccines because of inherent limitations in productive capacities. This claim is contradicted by the fact that Pfizer announced the discovery of production efficiencies in early February, that will allow it to nearly double its output. Unless we believe that Pfizer’s engineers are the only people in the world who can develop ways to improve its production process, making the knowledge open will lead to further innovations that will allow for more vaccines to be manufactured.

This would mean suspending intellectual property claims over these vaccines. From a moral standpoint, this should not be a tough call since governments paid for so much of the development costs.

Excerpted: ‘A Vaccine Summit: Taking the Pandemic Seriously’