Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit: Future of vaccines
On 7-8 March the UK Government and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), held a 100 Days Summit, aiming to future proof the planet against the next pandemic through fast-track vaccine production within 100 days from identification of a new virus with pandemic potential. The event featured representation from all aspects of the health sector, pharmaceutical companies, academics, UK Government Departments and foreign health ministers. Appropriately taking place at the Science Museum, CEPI sought investments to achieve their target of $3.5 billion over five years.
Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, proclaimed the urgency of pandemic preparedness: “For the first time in history, we have the tools we need to eliminate the risk of future pandemics. It is vital that we capitalise on the scientific developments we’ve seen over the last two years and seize the rare alignment of political will, practical experience, and technical and scientific progress emerging from the pandemic to prevent such devastation happening again.”
The event ultimately generated over $1.5 billion, with significant donations from Japan, Norway, America, and Germany. Other large donors included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust, who were the founding partners behind the creation of CEPI following the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos. Representatives from both BMGF and Wellcome, Dr Trevor Mundel and Dr Charlie Weller, respectively, expressed their commitment to continue funding CEPI as the vaccine coalition learned from experiences from the Covid pandemic – an auspicious sign that future epidemic events could be halted more quickly.
Perhaps most notable was the empowering speech delivered by Dr Tedros, Director General of World Health Organization. He stressed the need for intervention in our health systems on a larger scale, stating, “Equity cannot be left to market forces”, and noting that 83% of Africans had still not received a Covid vaccine. This sentiment was echoed by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, an economist at UCL, who, along with Dr Tedros and German political scientist Ilona Kickbusch, hosted a side event on Health For All. Professor Mazzucato advocated for a shift in our economic value system – a move away from GDP as a measure for a nation’s success and a move towards a more holistic understanding of prosperity, which places the emphasis on the value of health. Professor Kickbusch echoed these sentiments, adding that the health system itself was partly to blame, and urging us to build a better system which earns the trust of its people. The lack of trust revealed during the pandemic “reflected that our measures around Covid-19 were not people-centred”, in Kickbusch’s words.
This critique felt especially poignant in light of the small but vocal protest which evolved outside the museum on Tuesday. Piers Corbyn, brother to Jeremy, staged an ‘intervention’ outside the museum, proclaiming the leaders of CEPI to be a “cabal of literally the most evil people on earth” and spouting anti-vaccine conspiracies. Though he didn’t manage to attract more than a dozen followers, his sentiments nonetheless contained the frustration in some quarters with the lack of transparency in our health funding and infrastructure. Vaccine hesitancy and refusal continue to be one of the biggest challenges to reaching herd immunity and risk new, potentially more deadly variants of Covid emerging.
The incursion of anti-vaxxers highlights the need for more education on the value of prevention of disease, including through the use of vaccine, as well as the moral imperative to vaccinate to avoid transmitting disease to vulnerable people. A critique which CEPI gracefully delivered; Minister Amanda Milling spoke of the need to build out regional manufacturing capacity for vaccines, diversifying the global market, while CEPI’s youth representative, Oyeronke Oyebanji, spoke of fostering an environment where all generations had a voice in global health. Overall, the two-day event was a testament to the potential of international cooperation in the health sector and a bright hope for the future.