We are all united in wanting the current pandemic to end. Our global interdependencies show that our safety from the SARS-Cov-2 virus ultimately depends on high vaccine coverage in all countries, along with reliable tests, treatments and access to personal protective equipment.

It’s estimated by the IMF that the prolongation of the pandemic could cost the global economy $5.3 trillion, [1] while modelling suggests that failing to meet the 70% vaccination target could result in an additional 5 million deaths worldwide.

UK progress on COVID-19 vaccination, from scientific innovation to mass rollout should be celebrated, both in the initial stages and more recently with the accelerated booster programme which has had a profound effect on changing the impact of the pandemic on our population. Similarly, the UK has demonstrated leadership in the early stages of the vaccination programme through its visible support of the Covax initiative, which seeks to ensure more than 180 countries worldwide have fair and early access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Low vaccination rates in low and middle-income countries (LMIC) increases the risk of SARsSCoV-2 virus mutations. The emergence of the Omicron variant is a recent reminder of this. Continued transmission of the virus risks creating further variants of concern and re-importation into the UK.

Costs to the global economy of vaccine inequity are estimated at $9.2 trillion, [2] most falling on high-income countries, which will, in turn, generate further job losses and health harms.

Ninety-two countries missed a vital WHO target to vaccinate 40% of their populations by the end of 2021 – the target of 70% coverage in each country by mid-2022 risks being missed if urgent action is not taken.

Each country is unique and will have a unique set of problems and tailored solutions to bringing about the end of the pandemic. A partnership approach is needed, in which we work alongside countries and offer support that is adapted to their needs, as opposed to a blanket approach. UK Government support should include:

  1. Vaccine supply: Significantly increase the current 100 million dose vaccine pledge (80 million going to the ACT-Accelerator’s vaccine pillar COVAX); accelerate the shipping of doses already pledged; and ensure the quality of these and excess vaccine donations, by making sure they have no less than 3 months’ shelf-life when arriving in-country.
  2. Infrastructure: support the work of UNICEF, the World Bank and other ACT Accelerator partners to put in place vaccination infrastructure, e.g. sufficient freezers for cold-chain supply, and increase development and funding for innovations such as solar powered fridges.
  3. Invest in and support scaling up local manufacturing capacity, including in low and middle income countries to boost vaccine supply. Manufacturers have identified numerous supply chain challenges ranging from raw materials to technology transfer and regulatory oversight of new facilities. The UK should support the rapid development of the manufacturing capacity of trusted vaccine producers in developing countries, empowering low and middle income countries to produce vaccine locally. Actions to ensure this include removal of any material intellectual property barriers in line with World Trade Organisation provisions, direct capital investment and sharing of production processes.
  4. Regulate supply and demand: work with global health agencies, the pharmaceutical sector, and countries to assess vaccination capacity, avoid surges of vaccine delivery, and support the supply chain. Call on countries and manufacturers to be transparent about delivery schedules, and lead by example by swapping our place in the delivery queue with COVAX and countries who have greater need. Deliveries should also include essential components of the delivery programme i.e cotton wool swabs, syringes, needles, and PPE.
  5. Other health conditions: Increase foreign aid funding for other long-term health issues in LMICs e.g. malnutrition, maternal health, TB, HIV, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases, given the negative impact of COVID-19 on gains made against these issues. Ensure that the development of mRNA vaccines ultimately enables such infectious diseases to be eradicated.

We urge the Government to take immediate action to further engage with global partners to deliver on the above asks. As public health and medical leaders in the UK, we look forward to working with the UK Government to build on our collective achievements to date and deliver on these goals for global COVID-19 vaccine equity.

This global mission must progress alongside our work on domestic delivery of vaccine, and we must strive for vaccine equity in both. Only through this approach can we tackle this global pandemic and protect our health into the future.

 

[1] Pandemic Economics – IMF F&D

[2] The Economic Case for Global Vaccinations – ICC – International Chamber of Commerce (iccwbo.org)

 

 

17 March 2022