Talking to CNBC-TV18’s Parikshit Luthra (4 June 2021), IFPMA Director General Thomas Cueni shared his perspective on global vaccine supplies.
Main interview highlights from Thomas Cueni:
We from IFPMA called out to governments across the world to join us in a five-step plan to urgently address vaccine equity. The first ask is dose sharing. There is a shortage of vaccines. We always knew that this was a colossal daunting challenge. I think the only way to address this now is with rich countries starting to dose sharing, rather than start vaccinating healthy school children with low risks.
If we want to optimize vaccine production and scale up output, we need to tackle trade barriers. The Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine for example is composed from 280 different ingredients, coming from 86 different suppliers, passing through 19 countries. Trade barriers are a significant obstacle to scaling up capacity, in addition to the problem that there are scarcities of raw materials. And we know that some companies say that they could manufacture more, but the raw materials are simply not there, and vaccine manufacturing is an extremely complex biological issue.
This year, there were three major vaccine manufacturers – Pfizer/BioNTech, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna – announcing that, over the next 18 months, they do want to supply 3.5 billion doses to low and middle income countries. That’s really something which we need. We do know that there will be scarcity and there will be shortages for the next few months to come, but I believe we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
In terms of 2021, we know, and World Bank has published studies on it, that if we do reach the 10 plus billion doses this year, we could vaccinate the 60% of the world’s adult population by March next year. That is an amazing. Against COVID-19 we have the fastest vaccine developed within 326 days, and as of now, less than half a year since the first vaccine was approved, we have six vaccines formally approved by the WHO, with emergency use licensing. We are really seeing an amazing time for science, but we are also still confronted with the challenging task of scaling up vaccine manufacturing further.
The question about how much we need in 2022: I expect that we will continue to see high demand in 2022 because we do have the variants and we don’t know yet how long will the immunity from the vaccinations last. We also expect that we will need the booster shot but: will we need it once per year, twice per year, or only every second year? A lot of these questions will be answered over the next 18 months or so.
The vaccine crunch to some extent was inevitable, and the concern which I’m personally confronted with is that originally there were countries moving really early with procurement, like the United States, the UK but also the European Union, which was a bit of a hatching, because at that time you didn’t know yet which vaccines would work. Now we know. Now we have seen a move from vaccine hatching to vaccine hoarding. Some of the rich countries have six doses per capita, and some of the rich countries are now starting to vaccinate the young and the healthy at a time when, for example, many people in Africa and even healthcare workers haven’t received it.
We do see a tremendous amount of partnerships. We also see tremendous efforts by everybody. I’m truly impressed also to see companies such as Serum Institute of India, Bharat and also Biological E. and the sense of togetherness. We can only defeat the pandemic, if we leave No One Left Behind, and if we do reach that with unprecedented partnerships which quite often also involves technology transfer.
One of the elements, one of the reasons why we responded so fast, is a strong protection of intellectual property, which gave companies the confidence to sign almost 300 partnerships, and more than 200 of them include technology transfer. There’s been a lot of debate about this IP waiver which honestly, is the neat, simple, but wrong answer to the challenge we are faced with of scaling up manufacturing.