A recent report by The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has found that the initial outbreak of the Coronavirus became a full-blown pandemic “as a result of gaps and failings at every critical juncture of preparedness for, and response to COVID-19”.
The report titled COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic was commissioned after the World Health Assembly sought to review lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.
The panel found that though the virus was quickly identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, the “formal notification and emergency declaration procedures under the International Health Regulations, however, were much too slow to generate the rapid and precautionary response required to counter a fast-moving new respiratory pathogen.” Moreover, in the first month after declaration of a Public Health Emergency on January 30, 2020, “too many countries took a ‘wait and see’ approach rather than enacting an aggressive containment strategy that could have forestalled the global pandemic.” The report also says, “Coordinated, global leadership was absent,” and that, “Preparedness was under-funded and response funding was too slow.” The report lauds the efforts of health workers as well as the speed with which vaccine development was initiated.
Recommendations for improving vaccine availability and funding
The Independent Panel recommends that wealthier nations play a more proactive role in bringing about vaccine equity. It says, “High income countries with a vaccine pipeline for adequate coverage should, alongside their own scale up, commit to provide to the 92 low- and middle-income countries of the COVAX Gavi Advance Market Commitment at least one billion vaccine doses no later than 1 September 2021 and more than two billion doses by mid-2022.”
It also advocates for a bigger role for the World Trade Organization (WTO) and WHO, saying that they “should convene major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfer for COVID-19 vaccines. If actions do not occur within three months, a waiver of intellectual property rights under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights should come into force immediately.”
Addressing the issue of vaccines being bought by wealthier nations and resulting gaps in availability in low-income and developing nations, the report says, “G7 countries should immediately commit to provide 60% of the US$19 billion required for ACT-A in 2021 for vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, and strengthening of health systems, with the remainder being mobilised by others in the G20 and other high-income countries, and a formula based on ability to pay should be adopted to fund such global public goods on an ongoing basis.”
The Independent Panel bats for greater funding for WHO recommending “fully earmarked resources” and an “increase in member-states’ fees”. It also says, “Focus WHO’s mandate on normative, policy, and technical guidance; empower WHO to take a leading, convening, and coordinating role in operational aspects of an emergency response to a pandemic, without, in most circumstances, taking on responsibility for procurement and supplies.”
The Independent Panel comprises highly skilled and experienced diverse ethnicities and backgrounds such as healthcare, government, and civil society. They are Co-Chair HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Co-Chair the Rt Hon. Helen Clark, Mauricio Cárdenas, Aya Chebbi, Mark Dybul, Michel Kazatchkine, Joanne Liu, Precious Matsoso, David Miliband, Thoraya Obaid, Preeti Sudan, Zhong Nanshan and Ernesto Zedillo.
*Feature Image: January 2020 picture of people queuing for masks in Hong Kong by Studio Incendo via Wikimedia Commons.