The private sector can play a transformational role in turning vaccines into vaccinations, says the CEO of Gavi. Image: REUTERS/Amit Dave
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- COVAX, co-led by Gavi, has delivered more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to lower-income countries.
- However, a global vaccine equity gap still exists, with many vulnerable people still unvaccinated.
- Investment in health systems, driving demand, delivering finance and scaling technology are areas where the private sector can play a transformational role in turning vaccines into vaccinations.
When we look back at global COVID-19 vaccination in a few years’ time, how will it be considered in terms of public-private cooperation?
We are still in the thick of the pandemic, of course, as the United States’ tragic milestone of 1 million deaths reminds us. Nevertheless, it’s possible to make an early assessment, and most importantly, consider how the private sector can further support efforts to bring an end to the acute phase of the pandemic.
Let’s start with supply. Two years ago, few people would have dared hope we would have as many safe and effective vaccines available as we do today. We didn’t even know for sure there would be any. Getting to this stage reflects not only a triumph of science but also industry, whose efforts to scale up production from zero to 12 billion vaccines in a year resembles something of a moonshot.
It’s important to note that for too long these doses were not equitably distributed. COVAX, the multilateral initiative co-led by Gavi, experienced severe shortfalls in supply in 2021 as it contended with vaccine hoarding and export controls. Nevertheless, with around 1.3 billion doses delivered to 92 lower-income economies, a turning point has now been reached, with supply for some months exceeding demand.
Which brings us to the other vital area where private sector activation can help end this pandemic: delivery. Despite lower-income economies having protected on average 46% of their population with two doses, the global vaccine equity gap persists and too many of the most vulnerable people in lower-income societies are still not protected.
From vaccines to vaccinations
So how to turn vaccines into vaccinations? COVAX – with the help of sovereign and private sector backers – and its partners are stepping in with much-needed delivery funding to help countries tackle key bottlenecks, such as trained vaccinators, lack of cold chain infrastructure or other equipment.
This “country delivery support” will be critical in helping countries grow capacity and keep up with other life-saving immunization or other public health activities. It also provides a platform for businesses to make interventions of their own.
One way to do this is through investment in health systems. Recent years have seen an uptick in investments from private equity in African healthcare, for example. These investments, generally focused on private healthcare companies, seem a million miles away from the primary health care clinics that form the backbone of national vaccination programmes. But with resources so stretched in a time of crisis, private operators are incredibly well placed help fill the gap.
Demand is another key area where the private sector could play a transformational role. If there is one thing the private sector is good at, it’s selling things – and there could be fewer more valuable interventions than helping consumers understand the benefits of vaccination. Gavi’s work with Unilever and Google demonstrate how effective public-private collaboration can be – and there is room for plenty more.
Finance businesses, too, can help Gavi continue its traditional of innovative financing, making scarce donor resources go as far as possible. Again we have seen in recent years how much appetite there is among investors for investments that deliver solid societal as well as financial returns.
Innovation elsewhere is welcome, too. Through Gavi’s Infuse programme – which seeks to identify and scale up technology that can support our goal of vaccine equity –launched in Davos in 2016 and has since helped accelerate the use of drones for vaccine delivery and biometrics for tracking vaccinations, among other applications.
Public-private cooperation has played a major role in Gavi’s and its partners efforts to protect half the world’s children from preventable disease. It can play a similar role in getting countries the tools they need to control the COVID-19 pandemic for good.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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