As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to talk about the challenges and accomplishments. Sheri Fink, Correspondent for The New York Times, noted that the world is at an inflection point due to non-equitable distribution of vaccines. Fewer than 2% of the millions of healthcare workers in low-income countries have been vaccinated, putting themselves, their patients, and the rest of the world at risk. Only 12% of the world’s vaccine commitments have been delivered, and high-income countries have used 61 times the number of vaccine doses that low-income countries have.
Jay Collins, Vice Chairman, Banking, Capital Markets, Advisory for Citi, explained that wealthy countries contracted with vaccine manufacturers before COVAX could. The response to COVID-19, he said, is the most complex public-private partnership since World War II, much like building a plane that’s already in the air.
Highlighting Merck’s various roles, Arpa Garay, President, Global Pharmaceuticals, Commercial Analytics, Digital Marketing for Merck & Co., Inc., stressed the importance of therapeutics where vaccination rates lag. Specifically, she highlighted the need for a shelf-stable oral therapeutic with broad, affordable access. Merck is working closely to manage supply of its products across governments in the face of manufacturing barriers and few generic partners. One area of complexity, Garay continued, is the dynamic between anticipating supply and fulfilling commitments.
Michael Nyenhuis, President & CEO of UNICEF USA, expressed the need to prepare countries for using the vaccine. The first steps—research, development, production, supply chain, and finance—are complete. Readiness is the last mile. Vaccine equity bumps against self interest, highlighted Nyenhuis. Countries need to be willing to put down some privilege in order to play fair. The process needs more transparency from manufacturers, Collins argued, to ensure that the poorest countries are not shuffled to the end of the line. He recommended dose sharing and queue swapping in order to allow suppliers to deliver to COVAX. The world needs more awareness about the race against variants.
If you think about this pandemic in particular, there have been a lot of complexities in terms of predicting supply by country, there have been complexities in actually securing advance purchase agreements, and commitments that were made earlier to certain governments versus others.
We have to somehow wrestle with the fact that those of us who are in positions of privilege, in the countries where we live, that we need to put down some of our self-interest to make this a really, truly global cause.
COVAX has been an extraordinary experience for us at Citi, watching from the outside of perhaps the most complex private-public partnership that the world has seen since a war.
The only way to get out of the acute phase of this pandemic, of course, is through partnerships.