Sharing jab technology can help end pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic is by far the biggest global challenge the world has faced in the 21st century. Thankfully, several Covid-19 vaccines have been produced. The World Health Organization, GAVI and CEPI are leading the COVAX initiative, which is currently the best effort the world has to ensure that vaccines reach people around the world. However, COVAX is only intended to cover the most vulnerable populations in lower-income countries. More cooperation and more efforts are needed to inoculate the world against Covid. 

From the Associated Press: “President Joe Biden’s effort to vaccinate the world against Covid-19 is falling short, raising the risk that more dangerous variants of the virus will yet emerge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged in a virtual meeting with other countries on Monday that the globe is not on pace to meet a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the entire human population by later this year, a target set in 2021 both by Biden and the World Health Organization.”

The AP report said low-income countries—particularly in Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected—remain overwhelmingly unvaccinated. Wealthy nations awash in shots were slow to equitably share vaccines. Only about 54 percent of the global population is vaccinated so far, according to Our World In Data, a service by a UK nonprofit that advocates of international vaccination use to track progress.

Biden is scheduled to hold another international vaccine summit in March. During his first vaccine summit held virtually in September, Biden called on other countries to step up their own donations as part of a renewed global push. No significant development happened in the intervening months. Tom Hart, president of the ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty group, said: “Dose-pledging is no longer the appropriate end of the conversation. We need to be talking about vaccine production all around the world.” 

A group of US lawmakers early this month asked Biden to throw the administration’s weight behind a new, patent-free vaccine—Corbevax—based on technology developed by Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine but not yet authorized for use in the US. The lawmakers said the vaccine could fill yawning demand internationally and counter China, which has sold its vaccines while sometimes using them as leverage for foreign policy objectives.

The world still needs billions of doses of vaccine to quell the pandemic. Officials of the Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders said in a letter to the State Department that the US should transfer technology for Covid vaccines. They said: “While the US and other high-income governments are administering booster shots, many people at high-risk of severe illness and death in low- and middle-income countries are still waiting for their first dose. Severely unequal access to Covid-19 vaccines and global supply shortages continue to threaten health, lives, and livelihoods as new variants emerge. The US pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson developed or co-developed lifesaving vaccines, but they have not shared knowledge and technology widely with capable manufacturers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, hindering the global Covid-19 health response and allowing the virus—including new variants—to spread.”

Transfer of the mRNA technology is of particular importance for global health now and for future pandemic preparedness, they said, adding that they have identified over 100 manufacturers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America with the potential to produce mRNA vaccines. “We hope the US government will also deliver on ensuring more widespread technology transfers as part of a rights-based approach to Covid-19 vaccine access.”

Universal and equitable access to a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine is critical to ending the pandemic. As the United Nations earlier said, “no one is safe until everyone is safe.” It would do well for rich countries and vaccine makers to facilitate widespread technology transfers as part of the global response to end this global health crisis.

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