Amid all the rancour and discord that has come to the surface in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Global Vaccine Summit 2020, hosted by the UK government for the first time on a virtual platform, in keeping with the times and how the world has responded to it, came as a breath of fresh air.
Representatives from 52 countries, including 35 Heads of State, joined leaders from global health organisations, the private sector, vaccine manufacturers and civil society organisations to support the Vaccine Alliance’s work protecting almost half the world’s children against deadly, preventable infectious diseases, by pledging an an additional US$ 8.8 billion (over outstanding commitments) for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance - far exceeding the target of US$ 7.4 billion. Part-funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates, for more than 20 years now Gavi has developed and distributed vaccines in some of the world’s poorest countries, including Bangladesh, for diseases such as malaria, cholera, and measles. The Universal Health Coverage programme of Bangladesh could not have been successful without GAVI’s active participation and contributions to the tune of $700 million, that have helped it to extend immunisation coverage to 98 percent of the population.
One of Gavi’s founding principles is to organise predictable large-scale demand for vaccines to ensure private pharmaceutical companies manufacture the drugs at the volume and the price poorer countries can afford. This has become even more essential in light of the global race for a vaccine to COVID-19 that we have witnessed over the past few months, that can help countries get past the the crippling effects of the pandemic on not just health systems but also economies as well as people’s lives and livelihoods. One of the most important things the Vaccine Alliance is engaged in right now is working with pharmaceutical companies to ensure the production of a selected vaccine is expanded in record time by agreeing their factories will manufacture one even if the selected vaccine chosen for production was not their own. The higher the volume of vaccine production, the lesser will be the conflict likely to break out over its allocation. Exceeding the funding target shows that humanity could finally come together on global health after months in which it has become contested diplomatic terrain, mainly between the US and China.
Appearing at the summit through a pre-recorded message, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina noted that the COVID-19 pandemic “showed us that infectious diseases know no borders and do not differentiate between the weak and the powerful or between the developed and the developing.” It is a message that resonates loudly during these unprecedented times, when we all must congregate and collectively overcome the challenges. In this instance of international relations, the Gavi Summit was conducted successfully at a distance.