Interview with Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)
Funding upfront manufacturing costs for developing COVID-19 vaccines—even before we know which vaccines work—is vital and development finance institutions have a big role to play, says Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). As billions of vaccine doses will be needed at short notice, this funding can save lives by avoiding delays in vaccine deployment. To this end, Hatchett said that CEPI was exploring with IFC how best to harness the $4 billion Global Health Platform IFC launched in July.
Billions of doses of vaccine are needed to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we know that we are going to face a situation where demand for COVID-19 vaccines will vastly outstrip supply in the short term. We will have to carefully manage this scarce resource so that it has the greatest possible impact. That’s why CEPI, alongside Gavi and the World Health Organization launched COVAX in May 2020 with the aim of ending the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021.
COVAX is the only global solution that will deliver fair, equitable access to vaccines for every country that participates through carefully managing the vaccine supply for the benefit of all and to protect populations most at-risk. Our goal is to produce two billion doses of vaccine and distribute them globally and fairly by the end of 2021. All countries which participate in COVAX, regardless of income levels, will have equal access to these vaccines once they are developed, which should be enough to protect high risk and vulnerable people, as well as frontline healthcare workers. By protecting those most at risk first—wherever they are on the planet— we’ll end the acute phase of the pandemic more rapidly.
184 economies of all income levels are now committed or eligible to receive vaccines through COVAX, and fair allocation of these vaccines will be guided by the WHO Allocation Framework. This is a tremendous vote of confidence in multilateralism, as countries come together to ensure that the most vulnerable people around the world have access to COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of where they live. I hope that COVAX will serve as a model for a future pandemic-vaccine development, purchasing and funding mechanism, to ensure provision of vaccine in rich and poor countries alike at the same time, in the case of future pandemics.
Without private sector vaccine developers and manufacturers, it simply would not be possible to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 at the speed and scale we need to end the pandemic. CEPI is working with multiple private sector partners in our COVID-19 vaccine development program, which brings together resources, expertise and commitment from both the public and private sector to develop vaccines that can be made globally accessible.
As a public-private partnership CEPI relies on funding from various sources—usually governments and philanthropic institutions—to support the development of new vaccines. In addition, we’ve been grateful to receive donations over the past ten months from a range of private sector companies—both big and small—to support our COVID-19 vaccine development work.
It is important that development finance institutions help fund the upfront manufacturing costs even before we know which vaccines work, to avoid a delay of up to a year in vaccines being manufactured and delivered. This financing is critical to reserve the large capacity needed to make billions of vaccine doses on behalf of vulnerable populations everywhere, especially in low- and middle- income countries. IFC has set up a Global Health Platform to provide recoverable loan financing to vaccine, therapeutics and diagnostics manufacturers. COVAX partners CEPI and GAVI are working with the IFC and manufacturers to explore how this loan facility can be leveraged to reserve and expand this critical upfront manufacturing capacity and purchase raw materials to make vaccines at scale.
Along with our COVAX partners we are looking at the workings of the whole vaccine ecosystem—from development in a lab through to vaccines in arm—to prepare the tools and processes needed to deliver COVID-19 vaccines globally as soon as they are approved. We are working with vaccine developers, our partners Gavi, UNICEF and WHO, and others who will be working with the teams administering the COVID-19 vaccine on the ground, to make sure the vaccines that we develop have well-prepared supply chains.
One area that COVAX is exploring in-depth is cold-chain management. CEPI is supporting a range of vaccine candidates so that we can develop vaccines suitable for use in different settings. We’re also working closely with some of our vaccine developers to look at the stability of their vaccines at different temperatures.
The acceptance of future vaccines is a major concern, and everybody in the public health community has a role to play in building public trust and confidence in vaccines. CEPI and our vaccine development partners must do everything we can to support this effort, for example through open and transparent communication about the rigorous clinical development processes which generate safety and efficacy data for new vaccines.
Public concerns around the speed of vaccine development, new vaccine platforms, and different safety and efficacy profiles are completely understandable if they aren’t well explained. It is the responsibility of the entire scientific and public health community to engage in conversations about issues that impact vaccine confidence now: when you’re ready to give people the vaccine is not the time to start!
This article is based on a telephone interview and has been edited for conciseness and clarity.