OECD Forum Virtual Event: “International Co-operation & Vaccines”

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As part of an OECD Forum series, our virtual event International Co-operation and Vaccines took place on Tuesday 24 November


Speakers

  • Yodi Alakija, Global Activist for social justice & change, Ex Chief Humanitarian Coordinator, Nigeria
  • Seth Berkley, CEO, GAVI
  • Jane Halton, Chairman, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
  • Joanne Liu, former International President, Doctors Without Borders (MSF); Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR)
  • David Nabarro, Special Envoy of the Director-General on COVID-19, World Health Organization
  • Mark Pearson, Deputy Director, Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD
  • Paul Stoffels, Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson
  • Moderator: Anthony Gooch, Director of OECD Forum; Director of Public Affairs and Communications, OECD

This event is now over and registration has now closed – but you can still watch the replay and join the Forum Network to comment below!

The profound inter-connectivity of modern societies presents both challenges and opportunities in the fight against COVID-19. Decades of rising cross-border trade, data and financial flows, and mass travel have paved the way to unprecedented — albeit uneven — growth, knitting different regions of the world ever closer together, but this interconnection has also fostered systemic fragility — as the rapid spread of COVID-19 amply evidenced. It is therefore not hard to see why some may want to shield themselves by turning inwards, or “going it alone”.

However, “vaccine nationalism” would be self-defeating for a number of reasons. Developing a vaccine is a long, expensive and challenging process, with a very high risk for failure.  Novel approaches, technological advances and unprecedented sharing of research data on a global scale have contributed to the development of vaccines against COVID-19 at record-breaking speed. This has significant implications beyond the current crisis, as innovative vaccine technologies stand to help tackle a wide range of other diseases, and perhaps even cancer and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Nevertheless, it is likely that not all COVID-19 vaccine candidates will be equally effective for different population groups. This means that it will be important to compare their safety and effectiveness for various populations, and make sure that people have access to the vaccine best suited for their particular age, ethnicity, or living conditions. The urgency of the current situation thus requires building manufacturing and distribution capacity for several vaccine platform technologies or specific candidates. International cooperation is paramount to these critical tasks. Without it, export restrictions, regulatory hurdles and other bottlenecks will hamper production, distribution and uptake, ultimately inflicting greater human, economic and social hardship.

The successful development of one or several COVID-19 vaccines represents a tremendous milestone, but not the finishing line. Progress has also been made in the search for treatments that can reduce the most severe forms of COVID-19, but they remain very costly, which greatly reduces their availability in many parts of the world. COVID-19 vaccines and high-quality treatments can only pave the way to a strong recovery if they are made available to those who need them most. As stressed by the OECD Secretary-General, “as long as the virus is widespread somewhere, the threat will remain everywhere, and economic costs will persist as some borders remain closed.” In order to end the current crisis, it will therefore be necessary to also ensure that COVID-19 vaccine doses and treatments are made affordable, decide on who should get access first, and plan massive vaccination and communication campaigns. International cooperation is also essential to rise to these challenges and prevent competition in access that would be damaging for all.

Also on the Forum Network: From Vaccines to a Global Cure: Why international co-operation is so important for stopping COVID-19 by Mark Pearson,  Deputy Director of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD

Importantly, international cooperation must involve not only states, but also the full range of stakeholders. As research centres and pharmaceutical companies face not only steep development costs but also pressure to keep prices low, governments need to provide a combination of push and pull mechanisms to incentivise end-to-end development and large-scale manufacturing and deployment. International cooperation can make the amounts committed large enough for such mechanisms to be effective. If they receive the necessary financial support, leading foundations and new international actors, such as the Wellcome Trust, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi — The Vaccine Alliance can also play a vital role in providing the necessary incentives and guaranteeing broad access to the vaccines and treatments, thanks to their capacity to pull and coordinate resources in innovative ways. And indeed, the COVAX platform — which sees governments, global health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, private sector, civil society and philanthropy working together to ensure that people in all corners of the world will get access to a COVID-19 vaccine once it is available, regardless of their wealth — stands as a very promising development. Nevertheless, it has received only a quarter of the $16 billion it needs by the end of next year — even though this sum pales in comparison to the tremendous economic damage inflicted by the pandemic. 

Also on the Forum Network: The only way to beat the COVID-19 crisis is if we come together and commit to science by Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust

Access to a safe and effective vaccine, as well as to various treatments, may be coming into sight, but still requires much more work, funding, and collaboration across the board.  If international cooperation does not to pass this litmus test, the world will not only struggle to escape the worst health and economic disaster in decades, it may also set itself up for failure in the face of the other challenges that await. With both known critical issues — such as climate change and anti-microbial resistance — and less anticipated tail risks — akin to the COVID-19 pandemic — looming over our collective horizon, our fragile world cannot afford falling short.

Related topics

Tackling COVID-19 Health International Co-operation

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Willemien Bax

Head, OECD Forum, OECD

Willemien Bax is currently Head of the OECD Forum, the Organisation's largest annual public event. Ms Bax, a Dutch national, has over 20 years of experience in public affairs, working with governments, as well as non-governmental organisations and the private sector. Prior to joining the OECD, from 2001 to beginning 2010, Ms Bax worked with the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) as Deputy Director-General where she oversaw BEUC’s public affairs and media relations strategies in a number of public policy areas ranging from transparency and governance to food, environment, health, economic and legal affairs. In 2004, she initiated a training programme financed by the European Commission, for all consumer organisations in the EU, as well as potential EU-candidate countries. The training focused on giving consumer organisations the tools to develop effective public affairs and communication strategies. In 2009, in her capacity as European Chair of the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, she contributed to debates on major international public policy issues such as financial regulation, innovation and energy efficiency.

1 Comment

Go to the profile of Angie Lavela von Ballmoos

I attended this virtual forum yesterday, 24 November and the rich panel was amazing in enlightening on the collective roles placed by Governments, Private Sector and Other interests groups in ensuring this 2 Billion Vaccines being prepared to role out.  The understanding of mechanisms being implemented to ensure equity in the distribution of vaccines is so welcome.  Appreciating OECD for this informative Forum.