Sharing a Coronavirus Vaccine Isn't a Matter of Altruism—it's in Every Country's Best Interest | Opinion

After months of the most incredible research effort, there are glimmers of hope. Teams across the world—from the U.S. to the U.K., France, Cuba, Russia, China and Australia—are edging closer to knowing whether their vaccine may give immunity to COVID-19.

Just this week in the U.S., we've seen promising very early results from Moderna and Inovio. But as global leaders scramble to secure deals with pharmaceutical giants and put their citizens first, we must not lose sight of the fact that any one of these countries could produce an effective vaccine.

Wherever the vaccines might come from (and there are no guarantees), no country can return to normality until the world brings this pandemic to an end. Securing a vaccine for the world is not just a matter of altruism: it is in every country's best interest to work together.

This week's World Health Assembly ended with a promising step towards securing vaccines for the world. A landmark resolution, co-sponsored by 130 countries, calls for equal access to all essential health technologies and products to combat the virus.

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Polling commissioned by Wellcome reveals that this reflects public opinion.
Over four in five people in the U.S. believe national governments should work together to ensure treatments and vaccines can be manufactured in as many countries as possible, and distributed globally to everyone who needs them. In the U.K., more than nine in 10 people feel this way.

Goodwill and warm words must now translate into action, with governments, industry and philanthropy pooling resources to share the risk and pay for the research, manufacturing and distribution of the vaccines.

"Warp speed" is an essential piece of the jigsaw, but to make sure the vaccines reach and work for everyone, we need to run clinical trials across the world—as well as having multiple vaccines, manufacturers, and manufacturing sites.

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On delivery, any and every successful COVID-19 vaccine should be considered a global public good—available to everyone. The announcement that AstraZenica will commit to ensuring fair access across the world, should Oxford's vaccine be effective, is a step in the right direction.

Our polling reveals public support for equal access to vaccines. Over two-thirds of people in the U.S., and over four in five people in the U.K., disagree that coronavirus treatments and vaccines should first be provided for those around the world who can afford to buy them. And over four in five people in the U.S. believe coronavirus treatments and vaccines should first be provided for those who need them most in the world.

Vaccines have always been international collaborations. The early basic science for the Ebola vaccine was conducted in the U.S., but the virus sequence data came from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It was advanced in Canada, developed in the U.S., manufactured in Germany, then tested in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, as well as several countries across Africa and Europe, before now being used in the DRC to combat the ongoing Ebola epidemic.

Funding for vaccines has always come from multiple international sources. The Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), which Wellcome co-founded in 2017 with Germany, Norway, Japan and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is now supported by over 30 governments. The resources go towards creating vaccines for everyone.

This is the biggest vaccine challenge in history. Emerging scientific advances give us every reason to hope that a COVID-19 vaccine may be possible, but we must remember that we are racing the virus, not each other. Public health must not become a political pawn.

Views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Jeremy Farrar is a clinician and researcher specialising in infectious diseases. He is a scientific and public health adviser to the WHO and to the UK and German governments, was personally involved in the global response to SARS and pandemic influenza, and has been consistently vocal in calling for global leaders to do much more to prepare for pandemics. He is the Director of Wellcome, an independent charitable foundation supporting research to improve health across the world, which brings together science, innovation and public health with a perspective that includes wider social, cultural and political contexts of global science and health.

globe vaccine
Stock image. Over 100 vaccines are currently being developed by teams of scientists around the world. iStock
Sharing a Coronavirus Vaccine Isn't a Matter of Altruism—it's in Every Country's Best Interest | Opinion | Opinion