It’s not vaccines that save lives, it’s the act of vaccination, and that requires an unprecedented global effort to make sure all countries are covered, not just the richest ones.
The epidemiological and economic imperatives of equitable vaccination distribution marked the opening of the two-day virtual World Immunisation and Logistics Summit organized by the Hope Consortium, the Abu Dhabi-led mass vaccine distribution program.
“The scale of what’s needed in terms of the number of vaccinators, engagement with communities and ongoing monitoring, and health system strengthening, is truly unprecedented,” World Health Organization director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the summit.
As long as the virus continues to circulate, people will continue to die, he warned.
“The more transmission, the more variants,” he said. “And the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines.”
In addition to the Hope Consortium and other disease prevention efforts, the UAE is also a partner in GAVI, which works with low-income countries to vaccinate hundreds of millions of children.
GAVI has teamed up with the WHO, UNICEF and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, aka Covax, a facility that aims to give equitable access to vaccines.
The UAE’s efforts on the vaccine distribution front are welcome, demonstrating that a consistent, coordinated and coherent approach is the logical and reasonable way forward, said the WHO head.
“Ultimately ending the pandemic is not just a test of science,” said Dr Ghebreyesus. “It is a test of character.”
Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which established GAVI IN 2000, told the summit that while the cost to the richest countries to vaccinate the poorest is significant, it’s not only the best way to eradicate Covid-19, it makes more economic sense, too.
According to a conservative assessment from the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, fully funding fair distribution of vaccines would cost the world’s 10 richest countries US$38 billion, but generate $466 billion by 2025 – a 12-fold return on investment.
For the UAE, said Suzman, the return would be even higher.
“What surprised me was that a relatively small country like the UAE turns out to have the most to gain of anyone, far more than the UK, France, Germany or Japan,” said Suzman. “That’s because the UAE is so open to trade and travel. The price of oil, the success of airlines and tourism, global events – they all depend on global demand, including from less wealthy countries.”
Not only will a coordinated effort lower the overall price of vaccines, which is already spiking in some countries, it will help distribute them based on need, not politics, he said.
And while many countries are looking at donating vaccines to poorer countries, Covax is a better way forward.
“Experience gained with GAVI shows how much more efficient it is to do through a global mechanism,” he said.
The World Immunisation and Logistics Summit ends on Tuesday, March 30.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is a journalist with 20 years of experience working in North America and the UAE, much of it as a writer, editor and columnist focusing on the areas of physical and mental wellness...