Global players will gather online from Monday to brainstorm ways to rapidly boost vaccine production and fight a still-virulent coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) that has hobbled the world for 14 months.
Giving impetus to the meeting is a warning from the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) that the pandemic will not end unless poor countries can keep up with accelerating mass vaccination campaigns in rich nations.
Meeting online Monday and Tuesday will be partners of the Covax vaccine distribution initiative, led by the Gavi vaccine alliance and backed by research arm the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, as well as the WHO.
Government delegates, scientists and representatives of the pharmaceutical giants as well as smaller drug makers from developing countries will also participate.
The aim is “to shine the light on the gaps that we have currently in the supply chain, of reagents, of raw material, of products that you need to make vaccines,” WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a news conference on Friday.
The pharmaceutical industry aims to produce 10 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses this year, which is double the 2019 manufacturing capacity for all kinds of vaccines.
Manufacturing these jabs requires not just an unprecedented quantity of ingredients, but also items such as glass for the vials and plastic for their caps — at a time when global supply chains have been disrupted by the pandemic, Swaminathan said.
“So, the summit is really focusing on that upstream area, the gaps, how they can be filled and for solutions to be found,” she added.
Such interventions “can make a difference in the short term” even as WHO and others are already eyeing the longer-term course of the pandemic, she added.
Setting rivalries aside
Pressure from governments and public opinion has helped push the pharma groups, who usually jockey for a competitive advantage, into deals to produce more vaccine doses.
With its own vaccine development lagging, France’s Sanofi will produce both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Johnson & Johnson versions.
Merck will also turn out the J&J shots, Switzerland’s Novartis will make doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Curevac vaccine, while Germany’s Bayer is also set to help Curevac.
Such deals are “very welcome,” Swaminathan said. “We would like to see more of this happening and in more parts of the world. We need to explore the fill-and-finish capacity in Asia, in Africa and Latin America and use those facilities to increase supply.” AFP