Let's Focus On Increasing Vaccinations For All

  • National Newswatch

For the first time in the COVID-19 pandemic, the global supply of vaccines in COVAX, a key program designed to assist low-income countries, has far outstripped demand for vaccinations.[1] This is a remarkable development. It should urgently refocus efforts of Canada and other nations to translating these readily available vaccine supplies to immunizations for all.Now approaching two years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is remarkable to reflect on our progress but also the important work that remains.Canada has achieved a high vaccination rate but recall the logistical challenges we faced early on in coordinating supply, storage, distribution, and public education in order to get shots into arms. This was a massive undertaking that stretched the significant resources of our government, private sector and health system. The health professionals who continue to offer the best of their professions under relentless pressure deserve our complete appreciation and respect.As health and political leaders in Canada and around the world continue to emphasize, no one is truly safe from COVID-19 until we are all safe. The WHO has set an ambitious target of 70% of global population coverage by June of 2022. That gap is greatest in least developed countries.The achievement of multiple safe, highly effective and available vaccines has been an unprecedented achievement. Vaccines remain one of the most powerful tools to turning the tide of the pandemic. These innovations represent the best aspects of the biopharmaceutical industry, and government agencies collaborating to safeguard our citizens, our healthcare system, and the functioning of our economy. At LSO, we're proud that so many of these companies have stepped forward with solutions for health systems in Ontario, across Canada, and around the world.The foundation for industry's ability to create, test and manufacture these vaccines has depended on a strong regulatory framework including an intellectual property (IP) system. This is among the key factors which enabled the entire life sciences sector to move so rapidly with vaccine development and commercialization. IP was also a critical factor in allowing the advancement of novel partnerships, including tech transfer partnerships to manufacture vaccines for the African continent from a supply site in Africa, as well as in India to expand supply across the region. These partnerships have the added long-term benefit of stronger capacity across nations of all income levels to deal with future health challenges.The industry moved quickly and delivered, despite incredibly complex global supply chains for the long list of components in each vaccine. The production volumes and capacity are there.Nonetheless, questions continue to be raised of Canada and other nations regarding waiving these critical IP protections in the hope that they will help increase the supply of vaccines in those parts of the world where vaccination rates remain low. The intention to increase vaccinations is correct – but the available information suggests that production and supply of vaccines isn't the issue.In fact, the production of approved vaccines continues to far outpace the administration of finished doses. As of January 2022, over 12.1 billion doses had been manufactured at the global level, but only 9.2 billion actually used.[2] And the gap between production and utilization has been growing. In short, we are producing vaccines faster than we can get them into arms. Something needs to change if we are to meet the WHO target.It's increasingly clear that vaccine distribution and administration are what's holding the world back. We have much more work to do to get the available doses to those still waiting for access to them. It's a complex question which merits the attention of both public and private sector stakeholders, and we need to direct our collective energies to making progress much more quickly in these areas.The COVAX facility is an important global partnership to close the administration gap, especially for least developed nations. COVAX delivered over 900 million vaccines to 144 countries in 2021 and is currently in a surplus position of approximately 300 million unallocated doses.[3]COVAX remains challenged in its work to turn the supply of vaccines into needed vaccinations. It needs additional resources well beyond vaccine supplies to help countries make best use of them. We need to make a major push on logistics, local infrastructure and public education. Vaccine hesitancy must be addressed by building trust in a factual and culturally appropriate manner.The bottom line is that the private and public sectors – including Canada – must redouble their work through key platforms like COVAX to finish the job. Biopharmaceutical innovations, with the indispensable support of a predictable and clear IP system, have gotten us this far.Overall, we have the production capacity to supply needed vaccines. Let's focus our efforts to find solutions to turn those vaccines into vaccinated citizens in every part of the world.[1] COVID vaccine supply for global programme outstrips demand for first time (Reuters, February 23, 2022)[2] See: EFPIA vaccines infographic v6[3] COVID vaccine supply for global programme outstrips demand for first time (Reuters, February 23, 2022)