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Four takeaways from Bill Gates’ stance on vaccine rallying

Four takeaways from Bill Gates’ stance on vaccine rallying

From supporting more companies to scale up the production of COVID-19 vaccines to spreading vaccine coverage eventually to over 80 percent of populations in lower-middle-income countries, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has activated layers of responses to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

Through Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, Bill Gates, founder, has deployed proceeds from his giant multinational corporation and funds raised from supporting institutions to back pharmaceutical firms in beating the virus that has cost over 2.1 million lives worldwide.

But with clear signs that the virus will not varnish at the speed of light, the foundation is modifying its responses to plug aspects that have strayed out of plans.

The American business magnate in a pan-African conference this week put journalists up to speed on where it stands and here are some of the takeaways.

Increased production backed to aid vaccine surplus

Concerns have mounted as to why vaccination has grown across wealthy nations but scarce in the majority of Africa despite a campaign against the inequitable distribution of the vaccines.

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Gates’ take is that more vaccines must be approved and produced to drive surplus. The first two vaccines that were approved, Pfizer and Moderna, are very good but fairly costly to make and hard to scale up, he explained.

However, he expects that the next three including AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax will give the highest volumes, the ease of scaling, and the thermal stability.

“And so, we’re hopeful that, particularly with some factories in India, that the foundation has helped to finance, which have larger factories than the factories in the West, within the next few months a large number of doses will come out of there and be targeted almost entirely to the developing world, which is the goal of what we call COVAX,” Gates said.

“It’s a dynamic situation, I’ve been talking with governments and companies about this going back to last March, and so we have a chance here to get a lot of vaccines.”

He spoke of the foundation’s plans to move coverage from the initial 20 per cent to about 80 percent, although the path it will take was yet to be clear.

India, Indonesia to champion vaccine surplus

Given the high-volume of factories in the developing world, primarily in Indonesia and India, these countries will be targeted for the expansion of vaccine production.

Why? Developing world manufacturers including Serum and BioE among others have larger capacities can produce about five times as many vaccines as all the Western companies combined, Gates explained.

There is already an agreement with India that at least half the capacity of those factories will be dedicated to supply going to Africa and other developing countries through GAVI.

But for Africa to drive sufficient vaccine production, he says new factories that suit the mRNA technology and highly scalable could be possible over the next five years if rich countries make large investments.

“I’ll certainly be a huge advocate for that,” he said.

100% efficacy against new strains targeted

The foundation is looking at getting efficacy back at 100 per cent against the emerging strains of COVID-19.

“We’re investing money in that right now. I’m talking to all of the companies. It’s definitely bad news that these variants showed up, but we do expect that the vaccines will still have a pretty high level of efficacy, even before we make that new addition,” he said.

The emergent of new variants of the virus has slightly reduced the effectiveness of the vaccines.

The SARS-CoV-2, B.1.1.7 first detected in the UK last September and the B.1.351 variant, first detected in South Africa. Both variants have spread at a rapid rate and are highly transmissible.

Nigeria shouldn’t spend on vaccine

Gates’ view is that Nigeria should save its scarce resources on rehabilitating healthcare infrastructure instead of spending on vaccines.

It can simply rely on the vaccine supply coming from the Foundation and partners, he said.

“Well, there’s no doubt that the impact of putting money into the health system, particularly the primary health care system will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives,” Gates said.

“Nigeria should not divert the very, very limited money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID-19 vaccines. The key is that Nigeria is still eligible, and so, for a lot of those vaccines, they will come through the GAVI facility that we’ve raised money for.

“Health in general in Nigeria is much underfunded. If you look at the primary health care centres in the north and, in particular; if you look at the vaccine coverage rates, there are millions of lives that can be saved if the primary health care system operated at a level that some other countries at the same wealth of Nigeria if its system was as good. I’m an advocate for the government to have more resources and prioritise health.

“Waiting for the GAVI vaccines would be the best thing and to put into other areas so that vaccine coverage rates, that are as low as 20 percent in some areas, get up to 80 to 90 percent to save children’s lives,” he explained.