By Dr Phillipa Whitford
Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Vaccinations for All
7th March 2022
This week, the UK will host the Pandemic Preparedness Summit; a chance for states, philanthropists and civil society to discuss how the world can be better prepared for future pandemics than it was for the COVID-19 outbreak. In the last week of February, the UK Government announced that it would donate £160 million for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) five-year replenishment period. This pledge is £116 million less than the Government’s previous pledge to CEPI and significantly less than the £300 million that was asked of the UK. This is a significant step backwards in terms of ensuring the world is better prepared for future pandemics than it was for COVID-19.
Funding innovative global health research and development initiatives, such as CEPI, is crucial to pandemic preparedness and response. The Summit is an opportunity to raise $3.5 billion to fund CEPI’s pioneering work into global health research and speed up the development of essential new life-saving vaccines. As host of this event, the UK must demonstrate the global leadership which is being evidenced by G7 counterparts like Japan, who have committed their full $300 million fair share.
The COVID -19 pandemic illustrates just how vulnerable our populations and economies are to infectious diseases. It has caused the death of more than 5.7 million people directly through COVID-19 infection, and impacted on many millions more through disruption to livelihoods, food systems, education and routine healthcare.
Vaccines have been proven to be one of the most powerful tools we have in tackling the COVID -19 pandemic. All four health services across the UK have done a remarkable job of vaccinating and boosting their populations, but stark inequality in access to COVID-19 vaccines has meant that just 10% of people in low-income countries have had at least one dose.
CEPI’s remarkable ambition is to compress vaccine development timelines to just 100 days, less than one-third of the time it took to develop the world’s first COVID-19 vaccines. Crucially, there is a strong commitment to ensuring that all tools developed with CEPI investment will be readily accessible to people across the globe at affordable prices, an essential aim in tackling new emerging and existing diseases.
This is vital as during this pandemic, not only have wealthy countries pre-purchased and monopolised vast quantities of vaccines for their domestic populations, but their refusal to use their influence to ensure knowledge and technology for COVID-19 vaccine development is available to other would-be producers has limited the opportunities for lower-income countries to manufacture the required vaccines themselves. Unfortunately, while 130 countries support setting aside intellectual property rights during this pandemic, the UK Government continues to block the temporary waiver on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) tabled by the Governments of South Africa and India, which could allow a massive increase in global production of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.
By baking equitable access into its contracts with vaccine manufacturers, CEPI will ensure that tools developed with its support will be affordable and accessible to low and middle-income countries in any future pandemic.
Launched as a reaction to the slow global response to the Ebola crisis in 2017, CEPI’s fundamental role is to create markets for and promote the development of vaccines for diseases that, due to their lack of profitability, would otherwise be unattractive to vaccine manufacturers.
It has advanced the development of a remarkable range of vaccines against MERS, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya, and Lassa fever, and invested in fourteen COVID -19 vaccine candidates, including Moderna, Novavax and Oxford AstraZeneca.
CEPI is an essential element of future health security for the UK, by ensuring the world is better prepared for the next pandemic than it was for this one. The international community failed to live up to the early rhetoric about a global crisis requiring a global response, but it is crucial we recognise the simple truth of the phrase “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.