The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on every country of the world.1 To fully overcome its profound effects on human health and the economy, a global approach is necessary, which includes ensuring that all communities have equitable access to diagnostics, vaccines and treatments. Additionally, global collaboration is required in virus surveillance, to identify potential new variants and to increase the resilience of efforts against the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is important not only now, but also to ensure that the world is prepared for any future pandemics.
Global access to COVID-19 vaccines is essential
To overcome the core challenges of resource inequity experienced during previous pandemics, the World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, built the COVAX Facility to enable access to pandemic vaccines for people around the world regardless of income level.2 Please click here to visit the COVAX website.
COVAX is one of four pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched in April 2020. Through the collaboration of governments, global health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, private sector, civil society and philanthropic organisations, ACT Accelerator aims to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, ensuring that people in all corners of the world are able to benefit from these tools regardless of their economic means.3
In addition to providing access to the COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, the WHO is also supporting low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs) in overcoming regulatory hurdles through the Emergency Use Listing (EUL) procedure. This is the procedure of independent regulatory review of medicines/vaccines by experts, based on available quality, safety, and efficacy data, established with the ultimate aim of expediting the availability of these products to people affected by a public health emergency.4
As the first global pharmaceutical company to have allied with COVAX, we at AstraZeneca are proud of the progress that has been made so far.
Equity relies on timely access and reliable quality
Equitable access includes ensuring that vaccines are distributed in a timely manner, but also that the quality of the final product is maintained throughout all locations. In previous pandemics, such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic, vaccines were made available to LMICs only several months after being available in high-income countries.5 Concerns were raised that, had that pandemic been more severe, LMICs would have suffered an enormous impact and many needless deaths due to lack of access to a vaccine.6
In order to support timely access, AstraZeneca has worked at pace to build more than a dozen parallel regional supply chains and is collaborating with over 20 partners from across 15 countries. Through this network, we plan to assist by supplying multiple regions simultaneously, allowing timely access for LMICs in parallel with meeting other global commitments. Crucially, each of these supply chains is supported by an analytical testing network, which employs stringent processes to ensure the highest quality standards are met consistently across each supply chain.
Strengthening healthcare systems
While the world focuses on the delivery of existing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, it is important to build the resilience of vaccination programmes and infrastructure, to ensure long-term equity during the current pandemic but also for those that may arise in years to come.
As we continue to work with governments and partners to provide support access globally, we are also building solid production infrastructure that can support increased delivery. By leveraging and optimising local manufacturing capabilities wherever possible in our supply chains, and undertaking technology transfers and training, we are increasing our capacity to support sustainable and equitable logistics frameworks for vaccine distribution.
Ensuring fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across geographies and populations is essential to achieving global recovery from the pandemic. It is important that the vaccines are made available in a convenient and timely manner, but also to ensure that their uptake on the ground is practicable, and that the programmes and related infrastructure are built in such a way as to account for future needs.
1. World Health Organization. WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. https://covid19.who.int/. Accessed 11 February 2021.
2. Gavi. COVAX Facility. https://www.gavi.org/covax-facility. Accessed 26 February 2021.
3. World Health Organization. The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. https://www.who.int/initiatives/act-accelerator. Accessed 26 February 2021.
4. World Health Organization. Regulation and Prequalification. https://www.who.int/teams/regulation-prequalification/eul. Accessed 26 February 2021.
5. World Health Organization. Report of the WHO Pandemic Influenza A(H1N1) Vaccine Deployment Initiative. 2012.
6. Monto AS, Black S, Plotkin AS, Orenstein WA. Response to the 2009 pandemic: Effect on influenza control in wealthy and poor countries. Vaccine. 2011;29:6427-6431.