An epidemiologist and leader of a group working to speed up the development of COVID-19 vaccines globally lamented Sunday that“vaccine nationalism” initially kept most of them in less than 10 countries.
In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet The Press," Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, said the initial challenge was reminding people “you're only safe if everyone is safe.”
“Viruses will …continue to move and that's what we've seen,” he said. “Initially people were not taking that seriously. We saw a lot of vaccine nationalism, high coverage in a small number of countries — 75% of the vaccine being used in eight or nine countries. If you look at high-income countries, about 40% of the populations are vaccinated. In low-income countries, it's still less than 1%.”
But Berkley hailed Operation Warp Speed in the United States and the number of vaccines overall now available.
“We have nine vaccines in our portfolio now and soon to be 11 or 12,” he said. “That's what we started as a priority to move forward because we realized [that] we very well might have needed diversity if it turned out that different types of vaccines didn't work. Of course, we've been lucky.”
“The U.S. government as part of Operation Warp Speed invested in a range of technology,” he noted. “It turns out the mRNAs work very well,.”
“There are excess doses that have been produced by most of the high-income countries,” he added. “Our estimates are somewhere between 1.5 billion to 2 billion doses. Those can supplement the doses we've purchased. We've purchased about 3.4 billion doses of vaccine but if those countries are willing to make those vaccines available now, we can move those forward.”
According to Berkley, a big hurdle was India, when stricken with a massive outbreak, stopped providing vaccines for rest of the world.
“The biggest problem we hit was as the outbreak occurred in India, which is the large … producer of vaccines by volume, it meant they turned national with their programs, and that meant that there were less for the rest of the world,” he said.
“Of course, at the beginning, had vaccines been shared, we would have been able to get to health care workers and high-risk groups quickly that might have dampened the spread of the infection. We ultimately, of course, need to get there.”
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