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The Arms Race | We need to get the world vaccinated as fast as possible. We’re in an arms race: vaccines vs variants.

The Arms Race

Our six point plan for Biden’s Covid summit

Monday 30 August 2021

The president is close to announcing a special gathering of world leaders to draw up a strategy to end the pandemic. Here are the main issues they must tackle


President Biden and other world leaders are reportedly considering holding a global Covid-19 summit in conjunction with the UN General Assembly meeting in September, as we and others have advocated. Such a summit would open a series of important international meetings throughout the fall – from the G20, to the World Health Assembly, to the Paris Peace Forum and others. It is critical that this first act finally puts the world firmly on the right track and goes beyond mere pledges to commit to a bold action plan that responds to the perilous and urgent state of the pandemic. 

As the Delta variant demonstrates, we are fighting a virus that does not respect borders and advances rapidly across continents. As long as the virus is allowed to circulate unchecked in large parts of the world, we face the threat of even more dangerous variants emerging, including ones that can evade vaccine immunity entirely. The staggering global gap between vaccine haves and have-nots is costing lives, wreaking havoc on global politics, and jeopardizing North-South cooperation on other vital issues like climate.

The best way to prevent further catastrophe is to dramatically decrease cases and slow transmission of the virus through widespread global vaccination, combined with other proven public health measures. That is why a summit should set the goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of the world’s population by mid 2022 – a bold but necessary and attainable target, but one that requires collective action on six fronts.

First, the summit must establish stronger global leadership and accountability for a coordinated pandemic response. No country, alliance, or international organisation has yet shown itself to be willing and able to establish and lead a comprehensive global plan of attack. The summit should empower a trusted and credible leader, such as a UN Special Envoy, to coordinate the global response, supported by the Multilateral Leaders Task Force (co-led by the International Monetary Fund, World Health Organisation, World Trade Organisation and World Bank) and real mechanisms for accountability at global and national levels. 

Second, the summit should lead to the adoption of a shared, comprehensive and fully-costed roadmap to end the pandemic. Current approaches are fragmented, competing for the same funding and resources, and not bold enough to end the acute phase of the pandemic in the next year.

Third, the summit should establish a global task force for supply chain and manufacturing to expand production of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and other life-saving interventions. This task force should ensure accurate monthly estimates of global vaccine inputs and vaccine supply, so that public and private sector leaders can better anticipate and address bottlenecks and shortages, and achieve more equitable global distribution and administration. 

Fourth, the summit should secure commitments to share more doses more quickly. Our projections show that the supply of high-quality vaccines produced by manufacturers in the US and allied nations should reach over 7 billion doses in 2021 and over 14 billion doses in 2022. Very shortly, countries will have enough doses to address domestic needs while also sharing substantial doses globally. G7 and EU member nations, after a lost opportunity to provide leadership in July during the G7 Leaders’ Summit, must now step up to collectively commit to share 1-2 billion doses by year-end. These doses should be allocated equitably, based on where they can have the greatest impact in averting deaths and cases. 

Fifth, the summit should ensure coordinated action to increase countries’ vaccine distribution and delivery capabilities, which are quickly becoming the key constraint in the race between vaccines and variants. There already have been examples of suboptimal readiness leading to wastage and inequitable use of doses. That is why the summit should commit to ensuring universal country-readiness to undertake effective vaccination programs at scale by the end of 2021. Multilateral efforts to strengthen distribution and delivery capacity should be augmented through national initiatives from G7, EU, and G20 countries, modeled on successful programs such as the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar). 

Finally, the summit should drastically increase the funding committed to pandemic response. Immediate and multi-year financing is necessary to successfully implement a pandemic response roadmap, and should draw upon resources from governments, multilateral development banks, the IMF, and private donors. The summit should establish a financing mechanism through which funding can be channeled and directed in the most efficient manner to where it is needed most, and to jumpstart preparedness for emerging pandemic threats. 

To win the battle against Covid-19, and reduce infections and deaths, we must address the grossly inequitable access to live-saving interventions including vaccines. World leaders must act now to take bold, coordinated action that can correct the course and put us on a path to successfully end the pandemic next year. We have already been waiting too long. A global Covid-19 response summit, with commitments to this six-point action plan, will accelerate progress and save lives everywhere. 

Pascal Lamy is President of the Paris Peace Forum and former Director-General of the WTO

Gary Edson is President of the Covid Collaborative and former Deputy National Security Advisor 

Carolyn Reynolds is Co-Founder of the Pandemic Action Network

Mark McClellan directs the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, is a former FDA commissioner and CMS administrator, and is an independent member of the Board of Directors of Johnson & Johnson


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