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Conversation Takeaways from the Global Race for a Covid-19 Vaccine

Last week, we held a virtual conversation on the global race to find a vaccine for Covid-19. Speakers included Mike Froman, Vice Chairman and President, Strategic Growth at Mastercard, Melanie Saville, Director of Vaccine Research & Development at CEPI, and Anita Zaidi, Director of Vaccine and Surveillance at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Below is a summary of the takeaways from that conversation. Watch the video replay of the full discussion here. Sign up here to join our mailing list to get invited to future conversation series events.

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Conversation Takeaways from the Global Race for a Covid-19 Vaccine:

 

First, the good news. Dr. Anita Zaidi, the head of vaccine development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is “quite optimistic” that we’ll get a Covid-19 vaccine this year— perhaps several of them. Encouraging early results from Moderna Therapeutics show that “it’s not going to be technically very hard to get a vaccine that protects people.” Unlike HIV or the flu, which have so far defeated vaccine scientists, Covid-19 doesn’t mutate easily.

The bigger problem will be immunizing the entire planet. That will require between seven and 14 billion doses, with cold storage delivery — a particular challenge for poor countries. “The scale and the speed at which we need scale, and the financial barriers, are where we need to find a solution,” says Dr. Zaidi.

But don’t think about a Covid-19 vaccine as a simple race to the finish line. Dr. Zaidi says that, “The cheaper, scalable vaccine — billions of doses very quickly — is a superior product than something that comes in early, but can only produce 10 million let’s say.”

Access is a critical issue for Dr. Melanie Saville, the Director of Vaccine Development at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. “There’s obviously always a bit of tension between countries wanting to protect their own populations as opposed to doing things for global good,” she says, referring to the looming problem of “vaccine nationalism” where countries that develop vaccines prioritize their own populations. Global cooperation is essential, she says. “One country cannot control the disease on its own.

Mike Froman, the vice chairman and president, Strategic Growth for Mastercard, emphasized the global challenge. “There may be some vaccines and treatments that are very much applicable to the United States and Europe, where you’ve got a lot of investment in healthcare systems,” Froman said. “We’ve got to make sure that the vaccines and treatments that are being worked on are also going to be relevant to low resource environments.”

Therapies are likely to arrive before a vaccine. Indeed, one of the goals of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator is to fund research into finding therapies from a library of tens of thousands of existing compounds developed for other pathogens. “That’s the quickest way of getting a treatment into the market,” says Froman.

When will the global economy recover? Froman sees a four-stage process — containment, stabilization, normalization, and growth— and he thinks we’re well along that track. The timeline “may vary from state to state, from country to country, and certainly from sector to sector, but we’re beginning to see that movement from stabilization to normalization.”

 

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