Global cooperation needed to find COVID-19 vaccine

A staff member displays samples of a potential COVID-19 vaccine at Sinovac Biotech Ltd., in Beijing, capital of China, Mar. 16, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua)

As COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, an urgent need to find vaccines has emerged. They are the key to winning the fight against the pandemic.

Dr. Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said the only way to ultimately defeat the pandemic will be to develop an effective vaccine. In addition, the vaccine must be administered globally, not only reducing the cost of human lives, but also restoring economic equilibrium and blunting the terrible impact of the virus on society.

Addressing an online seminar organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on April 15,Hatchett emphasized the importance of a global response in vaccine development.

"Pandemics by their nature are transnational. Individual countries cannot completely isolate themselves from the rest of the world, and it is only by working together collectively that we will be able to address this threat," he said.

Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, echoed Hatchett's view, stating that a global response is absolutely critical.

The best science, manufacturing, adjuvants, as well as the capabilities to fill and finish vaccines can come from anywhere in the world, Berkley said."If we want to be as efficient as possible, we need a global response."

Hatchett stressed that global collaboration is needed to coordinate the procurement of supplies for vaccine development so that research institutions don't compete for glass vials or other essential materials.

The same applies to access to available manufacturing capacity, he added, "because we're not going to be able to construct brand new manufacturing facilities. We're going to have to leverage existing facilities."

Hatchett said CEPI's mission is to speed up the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and enable access to populations that need them.

He said that on Jan.23, CEPI was able to announce three new partnerships to develop vaccines against COVID-19. "Subsequently, we issued a call for proposals. Now we have announced eight partnerships, and an additional two are to be announced."

In an analysis published in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, the CEPI team said that as of Apr.8, they had identified around 115 vaccine development programs globally.

"I'm aware that at least 11 companies in China have developed vaccine candidates. That's about 10% of the global total," Hatchett said.

On Apr. 14, an official from China's Ministry of Science and Technology said the country had approved three COVID-19 vaccine candidates for clinical trials.

According to Berkley, the role of Gavi is to make sure vaccines are rolled out in the poorest countries. "We have introduced 433 new vaccines in the poorest 73 countries over the last 20 years, and vaccinated more than 760 million people," he said.

During COVID-19 pandemic, Berkley said Gavi had provided funding to CEPI through innovative financing mechanisms, helped underdeveloped countries buy medical equipment, while at the same time keeping routine vaccines going.

Berkley laid great stress on fair access to eventual COVID-19 vaccines, which requires global preplanning and agreements ahead of time. "Otherwise, there's a danger that all the vaccines, wherever theycome from, will be held for wealthy countries only. This will mean the epidemic will continue to spread around the world."

Hatchett said CEPI had argued for the creation of a globally fair allocation system, particularly while the virus is still causing hugely disruptive pandemic waves through different countries and societies.

"It will need to be funded and administered. It will need to have a global buy-in and allow for global cooperation," he said.

In a signed article published on Apr. 12, Bill Gates called for world leaders, particularly those in the G20, to commit the necessary R&D funding to develop a vaccine.

"CEPI is already developing at least eight potential vaccines for COVID-19, and researchers are confident they'll have at least one ready within 18 months," Gates said, "that would be the fastest humans have ever gone from seeing a brand-new pathogen to developing a vaccine against it."

However, he pointed out that the timeline depends on funding. "Many nations have contributed to CEPI within the past two weeks, but the Coalition needs at least US$2 billion for its work."

Gates said, "humanity, after all, isn't just bound together by common values and social ties. We're also connected biologically, by a microscopic network of germs that links the health of one person to the health of everyone else."

"In this pandemic we are all connected. Our response must be, too," he added.

On Apr. 15, the Gates Foundation rolled out a series of expanded measures including an additional US$150 million to combat COVID-19 globally.