A stepping stone to global health risk management

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Far-reaching, international collaboration between research centers, companies and governments in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine is the only real solution to a way out of this pandemic. Luc Debruyne, Strategic Advisor at CEPI, explains.

The fight against the Ebola virus in 2014 has exposed many pain points in the global approach to epidemics. A direct result of this was the establishment of CEPI, the ‘Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017.

CEPI is not yet well known to the general public. What exactly is the function of this coalition?
“CEPI is a partnership between public, private and philanthropic organizations with the aim of being better prepared for epidemics. The emphasis is on accelerating vaccine development and preparatory activities for, among other things, production and coordination with regulatory authorities. ”

Collaboration only works when the political will is there.

More concretely, that means …

“COVID-19 has spread very quickly and knows no boundaries. That is why universal cooperation to stop this pandemic is really crucial, and this on three levels: scientific research, production and the correct distribution of the vaccine. ‘

Don’t geopolitical interests stop this collaboration?

“There are, of course, many geopolitical movements; you have China, you have the US, Europe, Russia… But in the end everyone realizes that we are working against a virus that does not care about politics. It will go broke, the optimum world does not exist, and everyone will have to compromise. Collaboration only works when the political will is there. We try to get everyone on the same page. This has never been done before, is very complex, but absolutely no reason to think that it will not work. I remain positive and optimistic. ”

It is important to stock up now on candidate vaccines.

A good vaccine by the summer of 2021. Then billions of doses will have to be produced.
“From my experience as CEO of GSK Global Vaccines, I know that every vaccine needs its own factory because of its complexity. Thinking that you can just set up a factory in any country and provide a vaccine for your own population is a tricky business. That takes an average of five years. To be better prepared for epidemics, two elements are extremely important: first, the fungibility or the maneuverability of the production capacity. That means you can transform or expand existing factories. Second, there is the redundancy or redundancy. It is important to stock up now on candidate vaccines that are already test-proof. This allows you to react quickly to the final approval of the vaccine. We received the genetic code from the COVID-19 virus in January and vaccine prototypes were made very quickly. Major investments and collaboration with regulators and companies have allowed us to accelerate both in the development and preparation of vaccine production. But it has to be even better. We are learning a lot from this pandemic. ”

Then how does the vaccine get to the
population right?

“That’s the point. For a vaccine to be a vaccine, it must be registered by the regulatory authorities that say it is safe and effective. But with a vaccine you don’t have a vaccination yet; those are two different things. Countries must also be ready. Even if we had vaccines in sufficient numbers, that is no guarantee that people will get vaccinated. There are lobbyists against vaccinations, sometimes it is also for religious reasons. To achieve herd immunity, you need a vaccination rate of 60 to 70 percent. The country readiness is an important question that is often overlooked. ”

And so we come to the distribution of the vaccine.

“Fair distribution of the world’s vaccines is the third point of my argument. Just because Europe has a historic footprint for vaccine production does not mean that all vaccines produced should remain within Europe. Just because the U.S. government is investing more in certain vaccine developers doesn’t mean it gets the privilege of the highest bidder. The availability of the vaccine will not be simultaneous around the world, but the European Commission, as well as CEPI, GAVI, WHO and the industry have committed to global solidarity: fair access to a vaccine for the entire world population. ”

Many projects have been started for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Shouldn’t you also work harder on medication?

“There is currently no cure for this virus. We still know too little to develop an efficient virus inhibitor. Large companies and research institutions have already made enormous efforts: thousands of components have been screened, and existing virus inhibitors have been tested for the virus. They are working hard on that. For now, only Dexamethasone and Remdesivir exist, drugs that mainly work on secondary effects in severely affected patients. But prevention is still better than intervention. ”

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