A Media Briefing Addressing the Exploding International COVID-19 Crisis: Global Virus Network – Ideas For a Global Vaccination Strategy

June 30, 2021

Drs. Robert Gallo, Christian Bréchot, Sharon Lewin, and Amadou Sall

Global Vaccination

Vaccination is one of the most effective control measures for human infectious diseases. COVID-19 vaccines, particularly mRNA vaccines, have been very effective, including against the current SARS-CoV-2 variants. Thus, successful vaccination has resulted in mitigating SARS-CoV-2 infection in countries, such as Israel, UK and the US; yet there is recent evidence for new surge of infection in those countries, thus stressing the need to really vaccinate most of the population. However, vaccination campaign has been slowed down in many countries mostly due to the limited supplies and vaccine hesitance. On the other hand, many countries in Africa, South America and South East Asia do not have access to vaccines. However, in order to end current pandemic, at least 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated, thus requiring 11 billion doses. Therefore collective efforts are required to provide much needed vaccines to these countries. In addition to specific vaccine, the GVN scientists have advocated use of broadly effective, existing live vaccines (i.e., polio and BCG) based on their stimulation of innate immunity. Overall, insufficient global vaccination and spread of more contagious and transmissible variants suggest that we need to design a global approach including preventive strategies, rapid diagnostics, therapeutics and viral genomic surveillance, in parallel with the vaccine for current and future pandemics. It will be also important to provide infrastructure to African countries to develop and manufacture their own vaccines and to build up surveillance program to prevent future pandemics.

Vaccination Strategy

The GVN scientists also emphasized on prioritization of vaccination strategy. In many countries, older population (>65 years old) and health care provider have been a priority for the vaccination, leading to successful reduction of severe cases of COVID-19. Recently vaccination has been expanded to younger populations and all individuals above 12 are now eligible in many countries. Now, in the context of an overall limited supply of vaccines, much debate has been brought to the vaccination of children under age 12. They can get infected and although they seem to yield a lower contagiousness they still might transmit the virus to the community; also these children have mostly shown to have asymptomatic or mild cases of COVID-19. The GVN scientists support the suggestion to vaccinate these children when vaccines will be authorized for this population. However, for a successful global worldwide vaccination, GVN advocates that this vaccination should be initiated later when low- and middle income countries will have been given the possibility to vaccinate their populations. This is not only a moral obligation and a case of vaccine equity; stopping the circulation of the virus is the only way to end the pandemics, reopen the borders and stop generating novel variants. Currently, many low- and middle- income countries are facing surge of COVID-19 with a very low vaccination rates. COVAX and other health organizations are sipping the needed vaccines, but these are not enough. The Biden administration and the members of the G7 have announced the distribution of vaccines to countries in need. This is a major step in the right direction. More collaborative efforts will be required to help vaccination of low- and middle-income countries, including developing local capacities for vaccine production, while the positive impact of a waiver on the license is a debated issue.  Also, various vaccines with different platforms are getting approved and might facilitate global vaccination efforts.