China's decision to join the group of more than 170 countries engaging in a massive international Covid-19 vaccine effort is a major boost to the prospect of equitable access to safe and effective Covid-19 prevention.
The collaboration, called Covax, is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance. Covax is the vaccines arm of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. "It is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure Covid-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries," says the WHO's description of the push.
As part of the effort to develop, produce and provide vaccines, Covax aims to distribute two billion approved and licensed doses across the world in 2021. Nearly twenty vaccine candidates are already part of the Covax portfolio or are being evaluated for inclusion. More than 90 lower-income countries are eligible to receive a share of the vaccines, regardless of their ability to pay.
No one is safe until all are safe
A goal of the collaboration is to ensure that frontline health-care workers and the most vulnerable people in every country have early access as distribution begins. To anyone who thinks the best course is to hoard vaccines for one's own country, Dr. Mike Ryan, director of WHO's health emergencies programme, has this message: "No one is safe until we are all safe".
Although they often point to examples of countries that are pursuing effective policies to manage the outbreak, including many across Africa, WHO officials are hesitant to criticize individual countries for their Covid-19 response. They point to science when answering media questions about the United States having one of the least effective policies to prevent Covid's spread, the U.S. failure to join the ACT Accelerator or the Covax vaccine initiative, and the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from membership in WHO.
Apply the tools we have to save lives now
Reinforcing the frequent message of WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ryan notes that the world is interconnected. Diseases know no national boundaries, and economic recovery anywhere depends on a global trade network. Reacting on 9 October to the record single-day increase of more than 338,000 Covid-19 cases, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove tweeted, "Remember that the virus has been controlled in many countries and this staggering number is dominated by only a few countries."
"We know so much more now...but implementation is the challenge," she said in the 9 October WHO media briefing on Covid-19. "This will continue to be hard, as we try to find this balance" - making sure other diseases are treated, people can earn a living and children are getting education. But while waiting for the medical advances needed to prevent and cure infection, communities and decision makers can "apply the tools we have to break chains of transmission", she said.
An infectious disease epidemiologist who is Covid-19 technical lead for WHO, Van Kerkhove insists that Covid can be controlled, deaths can be prevented and economies will recover. Answering questions at regular WHO media briefings and at online 'social' events for a general public, she champions the research that provides new insights about the virus daily. She always recites the mantra she has repeated time after time: "Find and treat every case and trace and isolate contacts." These basics, in combination with masks, social distancing and hand washing, can saves live now and allow economies to function.
Editors note: People around the world, including clinicians, policy makers at national, provincial, state or local levels, and people in communities are looking for guidance - what to do and when to do it to balance health, economic and educational urgencies. The World Health Organization has a large and continuously updated set of information on all aspects of Covid-19, including emerging research.