MARGARET BRENNAN: According to the World Health Organization, more than 30 countries have not yet started vaccinating their numbers, including almost as you can see, the entire African continent. COVAX is the world’s largest vaccine program in history and aims to distribute vaccines donated to countries that may not be able to afford them. Drs. Seth Berkley is head and joins us from Geneva, where Sunday evening is. Thanks for joining us.
GAVI chief executive Dr. SETH BERKLEY: Thank you for being with me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re talking about that global defense gap here. April 7, Wednesday, is when the World Health Organization demanded that all countries begin offering vaccines. Is there a way to meet that goal?
Drs. BERKLEY: Yeah, we’re on our way. We have vaccinated 84 countries or introduced antiretroviral drugs to 84 countries over the past six weeks. We hope to get over a hundred in the next few weeks. But I think the biggest challenge here is the inequality we are talking about between developed and developing countries. Well, as you said, we are only safe if everyone is safe and nothing tells us this as a new species, because if we have more uninfected people, then there is a danger that we will see new species emerge and continue to spread around the world, as we have seen with the virus.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the first doses provided by COVAX began arriving on the African continent in February. But as we have seen on that map of 54 countries, I mean that there are great deserts here, in fact where vaccines can no longer be distributed. What is the biggest obstacle? Is it a given or is it an order to bring a gun and arms?
Drs. BERKLEY: So the equipment is gone. Well, we are working – the GAVI Alliance, which I lead, a government-private partnership working to provide vaccines in developing countries. We also provide about 50% of the world’s children with a vaccine. We have been able to introduce 500 ARVs in the last 20 years. So asset management is not bad. The biggest challenge right now is access to vaccines. We went on to place orders for more than two billion doses, but most of them come in the second half of the year and in the first half of the year when – due to nationality of the vaccine, it means less doses are available. So that is our biggest challenge. Now, if we had more prices, we could make that available.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Vaccine citizenship, you are talking about governments basically loving their people rather than sending volumes abroad. The outbreak in India, I know, caused a real decline in their exports. How bad was that?
Drs. BERKLEY: India is therefore the largest vaccine provider in the developing world, and thanks to a new wave of outbreaks in India right now, the Indian government has intensified its immunization programs. And that means they need more doses, which means they combine – make smaller doses available worldwide. We were expecting in March and April about 90 million doses, and we suspect we will get more, much less than that. And that is the problem. But we are in the race because we also see rich countries starting to cover most of their people. And our hope is that they will start making their vaccines available worldwide, including those they may not use. For example, the US not only has Moderna, Pfizer and J&J, but also a definite vaccine from Novavax, from AstraZeneca. That can be made available and they can make a big difference in terms of – supply of land.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Will you ask the US government to donate its AstraZeneca?
Drs. BERKLEY: Yes, the US has been a good supporter of GAVI and COVAX, and recently provided an estimated $ 4 billion in funding.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right.
Drs. BERKLEY: What we’re talking about now is finally getting to the big production facilities. I mean, the US invested heavily in the beginning and increased production rate. It also invested and went up. Once the US needs are met, those resources can actually be used to go online around the world, which can help prevent a major epidemic. Our goal will be by the end of this year to prevent a major epidemic, which is critical to global health security.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, President Biden, he has the first American vaccination policy, which is that we will not send our doses and give them until the American people are completely vaccinated. That is the policy. The U.S. taxpayer has donated nearly $ 4 billion, as he said. Now what do you do with the money you have now?
Drs. BERKLEY: So the money we have now is what we use to pay for the more than two million volumes we have ordered, but as I explained, most of them are in the second half of the year. And it is especially important in countries now that new species are spreading and seeing serious diseases to get treatment early, to protect their health workers, to protect the elderly and the most vulnerable. And that is exactly what we want to do as soon as possible in each country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So is there any other way to the US? I mean, China has got a lot of attention in its efforts to push its vaccine. Russia is currently trying to sell its vaccine to European countries. Europe is struggling itself, and that is a rich country. Is there another way to give to the US or do you need America to go up?
Drs. BERKLEY: So, I mean, there are a lot of suppliers around the world, and it’s not just the U.S. that has the opportunity to share doses that they probably don’t use. So this is not about taking doses far from America. This is about strengthening America–
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right.
Drs. BERKLEY: – Global health protection through the use of certain drugs that can be used. So it’s not possible- Tony Fauci said that one day he thought it was impossible for the US to ever reach the AstraZeneca vaccine–
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right.
Dr. BERKLEY: – give you the goods you have for another vaccine. So if that is the case and those policies can be made available immediately, that may be helpful to other countries. For us, the challenge is to make sure that the only vaccines we use are high-quality and that we know they work. We therefore need strong regulatory approval. And that’s why it takes time, because as new vaccines go online, they have to go through that complicated control process to make sure they are safe and effective, because if we have a problem with the vaccine, it could affect all vaccines around the world. We must therefore be very careful about safety as it is very important for us to move forward.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Dr Berkley, we wish you the best of luck.
Drs. BERKLEY: Thank you very much
MARGARET BRENNAN: We enjoy your time today. We will be back now for more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.