One of the key aspects of the speedy vaccine development during the COVID-19 pandemic was the successful co-operation amongst governments, privateindustry, research institutions and international organisationsat the global level, but a lack of global equity in access to technology and vaccines resulting in flawed and unequal distribution of vaccines and should be addressed in the future, said specialists at the 108th Indian Science Congress.
The plenary session on “Covid-19 Pandemic: A Review Of Disease Management And Lessons For Future,” today was chaired by Dr. Ramamurthi Rallapalli, Chairman, Network of Indian Universities on Cultural & Biological Diversity and former Vice Chancellor, Sri Venkateshwara University, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh.
In his speech, Dr. Rallapalli said more than six million lives around the world have been lost to the disease. Most nations around the world are back to degree of normalcy, though the threat of another variant-induced wave of disease remains.
He introduced the session which covered the government’s role and leadership in pandemic management, impact of pandemic across populations in a society, role of vaccination in pandemic management, importance of communication for compliance to public health measures and global equity in access to technology and vaccines.
Dr. Anand Srinivasan, Global Expert Data Analytics, Life Science Strategy and Data Solutions, Singapore, highlighted the Role of Vaccines in COVID-19 Pandemic Management.
He pointed out that the pace with which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed around the globe was remarkable. All phases of vaccine development – design, development and approval took less than 11 months as opposed to eight to fifteen years under normal circumstances. The primary reason for this rapid development was the ability of the stakeholders in the vaccine development to redefine the stages of development to be simultaneous as opposed to sequential. This was accomplished across multiple geographies such as United States, Europe, China, Russia, and India. This was due to partnership across key stakeholders from public and private sectors. These stakeholders included governments that actively partnered with scientific community and private sector, international institutions such as WHO, World Bank along with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI and COVAX, a global initiative aimed at distribution of vaccines. Private sector included global, regional, and local vaccine manufacturers and finally research institutions and NGOs have played key role in vaccine efforts.
As of November 2022, 68.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 12.99 billion doses have been administered globally. 24.6% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. As vaccine development continues to adapt to the emerging viral variants of SARS-CoV-2 to address emerging threats of the COVID-19 disease, the focus of future vaccine developments should include potential development of a broadly protective vaccine that can not only protect from SARS-CoV-2 and its viral variants, but also of future potential coronavirus threats, he said.
Dr Kumar Rallapalli,Ph.D. Global Expert, Vaccines & Public Health Strategy, Jacksonville, USA, spoke on “COVID-19 Pandemic – Lessons Learned.”
He said, as countries attempt to return to normalcy with the COVID-19 transitioning from pandemic to endemic disease addressed by variant specific booster vaccines, there are lessons identified based on how global organizations addressed the efforts to prevent, protect and control the transmission of COVID-19.
Pandemic management has highlighted the importance of government’s role and leadership with key learning being need for national preparedness built on global engagement and action. He stressed that the impact of pandemic across populations in a society has not been uniform. The COVID-19 crisis has affected disproportionately vulnerable people and communities, and specific population groups (children, women, and the elderly) and places, across a broad range of dimensions.
A lack of global equity in access to technology and vaccines resulting in flawed and unequal distribution of vaccines, and the challenges of IP sharing to assist vaccine producers in LMICs to scale up and distribute vaccines would require consideration in the future, he said.
Further, importance of communication for compliance to public health measures has come under severe scrutiny. Public’s trust in government and shared social behaviors among citizens has been severely impacted due to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation.
He said, COVID-19 pandemic management has provided significant insights on global pandemic preparedness and lessons for preparing for future pandemics. These include focus on rapid vaccine development, concerted efforts by public-private partnerships for rapid response, addressing public trust in governments and global multi-lateral institutions through effective communication strategies, ensuring strengthened health systems that protect the populations at risk of the disease and finally equitable access to technologies and vaccines.