World Economic Forum 2023: Is The Pandemic Era Over?
It was three years ago when in January 2020, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern. And despite many efforts to learn from the pandemic during these three years and some of the world leaders declaring the end of it, it still represents a big risk and surely does not seem like it is over. During this session, the panel will evaluate the state of the pandemic, the increase in cases globally, as well as the consequences and impact on the healthcare system worldwide.
The panelist for the discussion include Maria Lepton, President, European Research Council, Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Stefan Bensel, Chief Executive Officer at Moderna and Michelle Williams, the Dean of Faculty, Harvard Chan School of Public Health.
Current State Of Pandemic
In the United States, there are 526 deaths per day from COVID, which has increased since November 2022. Nine out of 10 of those deaths could be averted if people took vaccines, boosters and practice the other behavioral aspects, ventilation, mask wearing when appropriate, distance and so on. The bottom line is this pandemic is far from over. Thanks to therapeutics and diagnostics and vaccines, we are able to reclaim much of civil society and our economy and our educational system. We’re able to have a functional health system because we don’t have the kinds of severe disease that we were facing in 2020. And we need to also recognize that our health systems have to recover as well. We have burnout from our healthcare workers, and we have case mixes of chronic diseases that are worse now and require more intensive medical intervention than before. The impact and the context is diverse and widespread, and also we have to think about the chronic implications on our health systems and our financial systems workforce.
COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership
During the last pandemic with flu, the developing world got no vaccines. They were all bought up by wealthy countries. Therefore, the concept of COVAX began which involved a lot of people. With the science, the vaccine was developed quickly and first dose was performed in the developing world 39 days after the first dose was done in a wealthy country. In the first year a goal of 950 million doses was set, but out of which 930 was achieved. Today, the lower income countries have a coverage rate of 53% of primary vaccination, as opposed to a global total of 64%. And particularly in the elderly, a 66% coverage should be way higher, health workers better, 81% coverage. Given the disparities were still there at the beginning of 2022, there were 34 countries with less than 10% coverage. Today there are seven countries with less than 10% coverage, six of those are quite fragile countries with fragile health systems.
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Vaccine Development For Variants and Sub-Variants
When the pandemic happened, Moderna had made 100,000 doses in 2019 for the whole year. Moderna bought a Japanese company that has developed a new technology, new science from Tokyo University to shrink by two more weeks the time to get from deciding the sequence to having products ready. So it will be ready potentially by the fall of 2024. To build the manufacturing capacity around the world, there are new factories being opened in Canada, Australia, UK, Kenya. The amazing thing about mRNA is you can use the same facility, the same plant, the same machines to make any vaccine you want. Therefore, the same machines can be used in the same plant to make the other vaccine, which provides flexibility.