Talking vaccines: Industry’s role in protecting the Gavi generation

A new report highlights the important work of companies across the industry in boosting access to vaccines worldwide – and warns of the challenges ahead.

Vaccines are a hot topic right now, and the world has marvelled at how industry, public health bodies, academia and more have come together to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

But this sense of common purpose and collaboration comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, which has just marked its 20th anniversary.

Thomas Cueni, director general of founding member, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), said: “As the world faces its first global pandemic in living memory, affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world, it is not surprising that global attention has fixed on the search for a vaccine, which could help to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the need to ensure equitable access to new vaccines once these have been developed.”

In a matter of months, he went on, the pharmaceutical industry has been galvanised to quickly find innovative, socially responsible solutions.

“Using the latest technologies and leveraging deep and collaborative networks across public and private sectors, laboratories, researchers and scientists around the world have mobilised to discover vaccine candidates and put them into clinical trials,” said Cueni.

“The pace and progress of this has surprised many commentators and the watching world. However, as director general at IFPMA, I see first-hand the impressive capabilities available today to research, develop, manufacture, and distribute safe, high-quality and effective vaccines.”

Embedded involvement

Since its inception in 2000, the partnership of public and private organisations that spans vaccine manufacturers, research institutes, civil society groups and public health authorities has immunised an entire generation of children – the so-called Gavi Generation.

“The mission for the next five years is to grow the ‘collective impact’ of The Vaccine Alliances’ members and unite them around the need to protect the world’s children from deadly diseases”

According to a new report published to chart the success of the last 20 years, and set the direction of travel for the next five, that means 760 million young people are now more likely to survive and thrive into adulthood.

Gavi’s chief executive officer, Seth Berkley, said that COVID-19 was exactly the kind of challenge the alliance, which provides immunisations as well as the infrastructure needed to deliver them, was expert at overcoming.

“From the very first Gavi-funded doses of hepatitis B vaccine, which were administered in Mozambique in 2001, and the approval of the Ebola vaccine in 2019, to the delivery of vaccines to remote communities by autonomous drones in Rwanda and Ghana, IFPMA is helping Gavi to succeed and innovate.”

Gavi currently supports vaccination programmes against 17 infectious diseases, including polio, malaria, and Ebola, and more are in the pipeline.

Crucially, industry players don’t just provide the drug products, says the report, called Generation Gavi: Partnering to protect health through life-saving vaccines.

Their involvement ranges from development, testing, production, storage, and distribution, to supporting national procurement, ensuring health systems have the capacity to deliver and administer vaccines, training healthcare workers and programme managers, and building the capacity of vaccine manufacturers in the global south.

Says the report: “This work has not only produced life-saving vaccines, it has helped to increase access to them through the development and introduction of state of-the-art vaccine packaging, storage and distribution solutions.

“These innovations have led to reductions in the number of vaccines that need to be refrigerated, improved effectiveness, and reduced the number of required shots through combination vaccines.”

Sanofi Pasteur, which provides 80% of all polio vaccines delivered by UNICEF, for example, has been designing an inactivated polio vaccine and whole cell pertussis-containing hexavalent product specifically for use in lower-and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The report also notes how Gavi, GSK and Pfizer have worked together, through the pneumococcal Advance Market Commitment, to support the scale-up of manufacturing so that children in the world’s poorest countries can access immunisation.

“This innovative partnership has prevented the deaths of over half a million children in developing countries over the past decade”, says the report.

Challenging future

Despite vaccination programmes being one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives and promote good health and wellbeing, many face challenges.

From a rise in outbreaks of preventable diseases, such as measles and yellow fever, to the growing consequences of climate change, pollution, migration and humanitarian crises, the obstacles are many and varied.

Gavi’s mission, then, is as relevant today as it was in 2000 when the alliance was launched, says the report.

“As the partnership enters its next strategic period (2021-2025), IFPMA and its members will stand with Gavi in support of our collective ambition to roll-out the most comprehensive package of protection to date to the world’s poorest countries, and vaccinate the remaining 20% of children around the world who don’t have access to new vaccines.

“As we live through the current and unprecedented COVID-19 global health emergency, we are reminded daily of the importance of partnership and collaboration between the public and private sectors to achieve global health security and improved health outcomes…it also underscores the important work Gavi has done to build stronger and more resilient healthcare systems.”

The mission for the next five years is to grow the “collective impact” of the alliances’ members and unite them around the need to protect the world’s children from deadly, debilitating, infectious diseases.

“IFPMA members commit to innovate new vaccine solutions, reach the most in need and underserved (populations), support the strengthening of immunisation services, prepare for public health emergencies, and partner to maximise impact,” says the publication.

The importance of Gavi’s work, it highlighted, has never been so high.

“By supporting the work of governments and civil society, pharmaceutical manufacturers are helping to protect the most valuable resource on earth: its children,” said Berkley.

“Together, we’ve already vaccinated an entire generation of children, while IFPMA and its members are working every day to encourage the discovery of, and access to, new life-saving vaccines. Building on the strength of this relationship, we can deliver on our plans to protect the next generation.”

It’s an investment, he said, that we cannot afford to lose.