Despite hope in the United States, where the situation is likely to be much better by summer and the new norm in the fall, we cannot be blinded by the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. The Indian tide reminds us that the virus learns and adapts to us faster than we learn and adapt to it. The pandemic is more severe than ever and, fueled by options, is a constant and growing risk. If we get the right answer, we can save more than a million lives next year.
Dazzling scientific advances have led to the rapid development of Covid vaccines, which are more effective than many experts had hoped. But while Israel, the United Kingdom and soon the United States will enter a new reality with the virus, largely tamed by vaccines, global vaccination is lagging behind. Even under the best of circumstances, vaccines will take months to control the virus. And we are far from the best of circumstances.
Globally, vaccines would not reduce the curve in the short term, even if there were enough of them – which they are not. There is still not enough vaccine in most countries, and in particular in low-income countries there is not enough vaccine. The virus and its variants are gaining strength and speed. Global cooperation is essential to win our ongoing war against Kovid.
It takes weeks to months for the vaccines to be released and put in the hands of enough people to change. It then takes a few more weeks before the defense begins completely. Vaccines do not help people if they already have an active Covid infection, and probably do not help much if they are given after exposure to the virus. That is why we must continue to protect people until they are vaccinated.
The pandemic is the most important problem in the world. We must act accordingly. Our vaccine infrastructure cannot be relied upon to meet global needs. Even if there are currently enough vaccines that do not exist, they may slow down but not stop the spread of the virus. Countries with oversupply can make a dent, but vaccine production needs to be accelerated significantly to meet needs. While there are many more vaccines, prolonged camouflage and distancing and reduced travel are essential.
Rosie estimates that there will be enough vaccines in 2021, are encouraging, but companies have missed their production forecasts for 2020 by 96%, and total production is still only a quarter of the projected need for 2021. Options , which could overwhelm some vaccines, the possible need for booster doses, safety signals and production delays are very real risks. We cannot bet on lives and global recovery of precarious vaccines and precarious production.
All vaccines that have been shown to be effective should be scaled as quickly as possible. Vaccines Novavax, J&J, AstraZeneca and others are important, but mRNA vaccines are the most promising. They grow faster and are probably safer and more efficient. Transporting and handling them is becoming easier, as problems with maintaining the necessary over-cold temperatures are solved.
mRNA vaccines are our best hope of ending the pandemic – our insurance policy against options, the possible need for boosters and delays in production with other vaccines – but current capacity is hardly needed. Technology transfer and boosting global production, especially of mRNA vaccines, is the most important step the Biden administration can take to help end the Covid pandemic. U.S. taxpayers funded the Moderna vaccine. Not sharing this technology puts us at risk if even more dangerous options emerge.
Regional mRNA production centers are crucial to providing the best vaccines worldwide. It will take longer than we would like, so we need to start right now. India, South Korea, Singapore, Brazil and other countries in Latin America, South Africa, Senegal and Rwanda have the potential to build vaccine production capacity and can become suppliers of vaccines worldwide. The candidate for the CureVac mRNA vaccine, which is now in phase 3 clinical trials, may be another resource to expand production.
Dangerous Option B.1.1.7 continues its stunning campaign in the United States and now accounts for more than half of the new cases that have been sequenced in that country. Even more than half of our adult population is fully vaccinated, we face a long-term risk of outbreaks, and those who remain unvaccinated – including young people – are at risk of infection with a more deadly virus.
During the 1918 pandemic, the second wave was more deadly than the first in many places. I am concerned that we are now in the most dangerous phase of this pandemic worldwide. Covid becomes more deadly and more transmissible, the virus circulates at higher levels in more places and after more than a year of interruption of our lives, people’s fatigue increases.
Globally, 1.8 million deaths have been reported by Covid in 2020. At current rates, the number of deaths will be even higher in 2021. But this is not inevitable; pandemics are not natural disasters. We have shown that we can control Covid. The options remain the biggest wild card, but we have learned a lot about the virus and how to limit its impact.
Protection measures are working and effective action can save at least one million lives this year. We need to take these six steps now to tackle the proliferation of explosives worldwide.
1. Protect health and healthcare professionals.
3. Keep your distance to avoid over-reliance.
4. Continue basic services, including school.
5. Vaccinate, especially health workers and the elderly.
6. Learn and adapt.
For each of these six, we need a focused, well-managed, responsible approach. We need to do better protection for healthcare and health workers. This will save the life of Kovid, as well as other diseases that become fatal when care is interrupted. Controlling Covid will save lives from Covid and many other diseases.
It is possible to defeat infectious diseases. These success stories about how we have prevented epidemics in the past give me hope. If we work together across borders to fight Covid and invest in readiness, we can save millions of lives. Covid has shown the costs of failure, but a safer and healthier future is possible. It is up to us to do that.