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World of vaccines is a ‘fiendishly’ complex one

COMMENT

In response to Will Africa’s best shot at at Covid-19 vaccine be enough?, Mail & Guardian (12 October)

Laura López González doubts that the only truly global vaccine-based solution to Covid-19, the Covax partnership, will reach those most in need because any intellectual property (IP) relating to eventual vaccines will remain with the organisations that developed them.

It is important that Africa, along with other regions of the Global South, builds its own vaccine-manufacturing capacity and it is important that leaders from the public and private sector do everything they can to drive forward this goal. Sadly, however, it is just not realistic to believe that the provision of technological know-how to every country in the world will enable us to produce the number of doses we need, in the time we need them, to defeat the pandemic.

The world of vaccines, like many other worlds, does not work like that. For one thing, it would be impossible for any organisation to develop vaccines were there not an economic incentive in the first place. More significantly, manufacturing of vaccines is fiendishly complex, and often requires thousands of individual steps: to put one foot wrong would put lives at risk.

In acknowledgement of the fact that supply constraints, not IP issues, will be the biggest barrier to achieving global coverage of Covid-19 vaccines, Covax is instead focusing on raising enough cash to incentivise manufacturers to make enough doses to satisfy global demand. As well as making sure countries get enough life-saving, cold-chain infrastructure to eventually deliver them.

This may come at a cost, but it leaves behind a legacy of sustainable economic development. Already, Covax has inked contracts for hundreds of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines from manufacturers in the Global South and the upshot of this is a more diverse, more competitive market for vaccines that has been proven to bring down costs dramatically in the long run.

Delivering Covid-19 vaccines to the world could possibly be the largest global health deployment in history. It is literally all hands on deck, and we will only succeed if we work together to make it happen.

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Thabani Maphosa
Thabani Maphosa is managing director of Gavi, the vaccine alliance

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