Editor’s Note: Adar Poonawalla is chief executive officer of vaccine manufacturer the Serum Institute of India. He is founder of Clean City Pune, an environmental institute aimed at making cities more liveable. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Whether it was conducting groundbreaking research, completing clinical studies, manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines or distributing and administering billions of doses, scientists, public health officials, doctors and countless others have taken on the Herculean task of protecting people around the world from the novel coronavirus with vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
While we – the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume – recognize the innovation and effort the global community undertook in the past two years, we also acknowledge that there is more to do. As world leaders come together at the World Economic Forum this week, I hope that they collectively work toward a healthy and safe future for the generations to come.
Developing vaccines or treatments that can actually prevent transmission of disease, not just hospitalizations and deaths, would help control the virus. And there needs to be multilateral cooperation from countries to provide equitable access to vaccines and therapeutics to all.
So, what are the lessons we learned? And how can we avoid a fragmented immunization effort in the event of another pandemic?
In 2021, around 11 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines were produced, according to the World Economic Forum, however, the access to these vaccines was not equitable.
To ensure a fair global health system, there is no other option but to adopt a Global Pandemic Treaty aimed at building a common regulatory framework which would enable knowledge-sharing, provide resources and logistical support and maintain a transparent approval system of vaccine certificates.
Given the disruption and devastating loss of life we’ve seen in the past two years of Covid-19, it is of utmost importance that there are systems in place to prevent the next pandemic.
I am certainly not naïve enough to think a global treaty would solve all our problems. Countries will still need to continue investing in their own health care systems and pharmaceutical manufacturing and create agile systems of detection for emerging diseases.
But beyond that, we still need political will and multilateral cooperation between countries to bring about a coordinated global response to any pathogen.
There would have to be at least four major cornerstones in such a treaty:
1.) A free flow of raw materials and vaccines to be exported and shared by major producing countries of essential drugs and medicines. Each country should agree to export at least 25% of what it can produce for itself, for example. Hopefully, more and more nations will build their own capabilities in the years to come.
2.) Sharing of intellectual property (IP) of breakthrough technologies, on a commercial basis that rewards the innovator to scale up the manufacturing in different parts of the world during a global pandemic. This could apply to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. For instance, the partnerships between vaccine makers and manufacturers significantly cut down the time it took to get doses distributed and administered around the world, likely saving countless lives.
3.) Global agreement of regulatory standards: Clinical trials and manufacturing standards should be agreed to in advance, with oversight headed by a multilateral organization such as the World Health Organization. This will enable more manufacturers to be able to come forward and produce treatments and vaccines that adhere to good manufacturing practices and standards at a faster pace. This could also help fight misinformation about different treatments and vaccines, which fueled vaccine hesitancy and preferences for different vaccines over others.
4.) Universal travel vaccine certificates on a digital platform that is at the ready. This could eliminate any questions about authenticity and acceptance, especially for travelers in the event of future lockdowns.
These are just some elements that could help governments and international health regulatory bodies respond more quickly and effectively to future pandemics. A treaty like this could also provide a fair and predefined framework that would dial up the political will and help leaders deal with periods of crisis in their own countries.