Looking down the barrel of tomorrow: the COVAX approach

1st December, 2020

In recent weeks, we appear to be turning a corner with regards to the ongoing pursuit to create an effective vaccine for COVID-19, and when saying an effective vaccine, we actually mean ‘many’ effective vaccines, as it is clear in this instance, that we will only gain safety in numbers. We are seeing promising vaccine results hit the headlines for Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Sputnik and the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, and this momentum is bringing a feeling of anticipated relief, not just from the scientific community, but from all those affected.

Ending the acute phase of the pandemic

Coronavirus has put the pharma industry in the spotlight, when we think about the global quest towards our common goal. The goal? COVID-19 to be defeated. We want normality to resume. We want it all to be over. As such, these promising results from vaccine candidates look comforting, tantalising perhaps, but if we only look on our own doorstep, at our own figures, we cannot defeat COVID, we cannot return to normality and it will not be over. Simply put, nationalized vaccination is just a bandage. It will take a collaborative, global effort to be able to end the acute phase of the pandemic. That is exactly what has been initiated by some top international organisations in healthcare and vaccination management.

Global collaboration – stronger together

The Access toCOVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator is a global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. It was launched in April 2020, and brings together a whole host of experts with the sole purpose of overcoming COVID-19 as quickly, safely and effectively as possible. The collaborators include governments, scientists, businesses, civil society, philanthropists and global health organizations.

The COVAX Facility is the vaccine pillar of the ACT Accelerator; an initiative set up by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO). If you would like to read more about this fantastic initiative, please take a look at COVAX explained. In a nutshell, COVAX  is working as a conduit to support research, development, manufacturing and distribution of many potential COVID-19 vaccines, whilst also, importantly, negotiating their prices and trying to provide equal access to vaccines once they are approved. The hope is that by uniting global efforts, lower-income funded nations will still have access to COVID-19 vaccines. As Gavi states on it’s website – “COVAX is quite literally a lifeline [for lower-income funded nations] and the only viable way in which their citizens will get access to COVID-19 vaccines”.

Safety in numbers

There are currently 186 countries signed up for the COVAX Facility, made up of 92 low- and lower middle-income countries, alongside 90 upper-middle-income and high-income nations, which represents four-fifths of the world’s population. As mentioned previously, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, CEPI and WHO are driving this initiative, but it doesn’t stop there. UNICEF, for example, are going to be instrumental in the logistics of getting the drugs to the participating countries. They are focussing on procurement, freight, logistics and storage, in collaboration with the PAHO Revolving Fund. Let’s also not forget the biopharma companies involved – AstraZeneca became the first vaccine manufacturer to sign up to the COVAX Facility at the Global Vaccine Summit in June 2020, when it guaranteed 300 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that it has developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford. Developing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine is arguably the biggest challenge that the pharmaceutical industry has ever faced. Every industry has been affected in one way or another, and the only way we can begin to rebuild our economies is to control the acute phase of the pandemic. This global effort means all countries, regardless of economic status – this cannot be a vaccine for the wealthy.

“Nobody wins the race until everyone wins.”

As Gavi so eloquently captures on their website – “nobody wins the race until everyone wins”. This is clearly echoed by the WHO “no-one is safe until everyone is safe.” CEVI states that “we need to ensure that the skills, experience and resources of the world make this a race against the virus not against each other.” You can see the theme developing here. It’s time to look beyond our own doorsteps – the common goal needs to be one world protected