While the world can likely expect an approved Covid-19 vaccine by early next year, it’s not clear whether the drug’s manufacturing and distribution will be adequate enough to quickly end the global pandemic, said Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We’re at a critical moment where the research is going well, but we’re not clear yet whether we’re going to have the manufacturing and distribution we need to really tackle this pandemic,” Suzman told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell on “Squawk Alley” on Tuesday.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released a new report, called “The Goalkeepers Report,” on Monday that found global routine vaccinations during the coronavirus pandemic have dropped from reaching 84% of the world’s children last year to 70%, levels last seen 25 years ago. The report also found that the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on women, racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as people living in extreme poverty.
“The reason we put out this report every year is to normally highlight progress. This is a devastating set back,” Suzman said. The world could return to normal levels within a couple of years if it’s able to handle the pandemic while launching vaccination campaigns, which require administering vaccine doses to a large population over a short period of time, he said.
“It’s really really worrying when you see what Covid has done,” Suzman said.
The report from the foundation also stresses the need for world economies to collaborate on Covid-19 vaccine development and distribution. It calls for nations across the globe to aid in coronavirus vaccine and therapeutic research, scale the manufacturing for doses to the largest extent possible and deliver vaccines to those most in need, regardless of their nationality.
The report cites modeling from Northeastern University that predicts twice as many people could die from Covid-19 if wealthier countries hoard the first 2 billion vaccine doses rather than distributing them equitably.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a founding partner and donor to vaccine alliance Gavi, which is leading the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, alongside the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI.
COVAX aims to work with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries with “equitable access to safe and effective vaccines” and protect the most vulnerable populations, such as older people and health-care workers. Its goal is to deliver 2 billion approved Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021 by scaling manufacturing and buying the vaccine.
Wealthy countries, including the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom, have already preordered more than 2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines, which could leave limited supplies in the coming year.
The Trump administration said in early September that it wouldn’t join the WHO-backed vaccine initiative. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has downplayed the nation’s absence from the initiative, saying “there is no nation that has been more willing and as deeply committed to delivering vaccines all around the world as the United States of America.”
“We did a good job funding R&D [on vaccines], but … we’re not getting any credit for the R&D funding,” Gates told STAT News. “All you have to do is the four plus four, $8 billion total. And then people will see, even though the U.S. made some mistakes, at least our desire to cooperate, help others and use our R&D capacity, at least, you know, they’ll see it in a positive light.”
Suzman told CNBC it’s “unclear” whether the coalition will be able to raise enough resources to match global need.
“This is a classic global crisis that can only be solved with a global set of solutions,” Suzman said. “There are no national solutions where everyone turns into an island and focuses on their own populations because we’re not going to shut down international trade, we’re not going to shutdown all international travel.”
— CNBC’s Christina Farr contributed to this report.