Labour’s plan to transform global vaccine production
Labour’s plan to transform global vaccine production
Leading members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet have today written to the Government demanding action to resolve the global shortage in vaccine production, control the spread of Covid-19, and put in place the infrastructure and mechanisms required to tackle future pandemics.
Labour’s letter to the Trade Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Health Secretary and Business Secretary urges the Government to engage constructively with US proposals for a waiver of vaccine patents, but acknowledges that a patent waiver on its own will not solve the vaccine production crisis.
Labour’s plan therefore proposes:
- A global effort to identify and equip the dozens of new facilities required in key countries and regions around the world to undertake vaccine production, or fill and finish operations, building on the model of Oxford’s new Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre;
- The world’s largest ever coordinated investment programme – in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry – to ensure that these new facilities have the skills, technology and supplies they need to enable the safe and efficient mass production of vaccines;
- The establishment of a regulatory body to oversee vaccine production standards and a formal trade and investment agreement among participating countries to replicate at global level the successful direction provided in Britain by the Vaccines Task Force; and
- The determined global pursuit of new innovations that would transform the fight against Covid-19 and future viral diseases, including the development of orally-active vaccines, to be produced and distributed in capsule form.
Labour’s Shadow International Trade Secretary, Emily Thornberry MP, said:
“This plan will not just help the world bring the Covid-19 pandemic to an end, and make us safe against the spread of new variants and strains, but establish the mechanisms, infrastructure and tools that will allow us to tackle future pandemics much more efficiently and effectively.
“So while the costs of financing this plan will doubtless be substantial, they must be weighed against the human, social and economic damage we will avoid if we can bring this current pandemic to a rapid end, and ensure it will never be repeated on the same scale.”
Notes to Editors
The text of the Labour Party’s letter, to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, is as follows:
Following our discussions as a Shadow Cabinet, we are writing to you and your colleagues, the Foreign Secretary, the Health Secretary, and the Business Secretary, to set out our proposals to maximise the production of Covid-19 vaccines across the world, and urge you all – ahead of the G7 summit – to provide the global leadership that the delivery of this plan requires.
The fact that Covid-19 is still killing thousands of people every day around the world is down entirely to the unacceptable and growing gulf between countries like ours where more than two-thirds of adults have had their first jab and many countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean where vaccination programmes have barely begun, and where billions of people are therefore still left unprotected. We cannot let that inequity continue.
The imperative for Britain to lead that effort is not just driven by our basic values and morality, but by our own needs and interests. We will not achieve the permanent return to safety and normality that we all crave, and that our economy desperately needs, as long as billions of people around the world are still waiting for their vaccines, making mass outbreaks such as that in India a regular occurrence, and resulting new variants of the virus a constant threat.
The UK should therefore be earmarking any surplus vaccine doses that we do not require to complete our own vaccination programme to go to India and other countries in urgent need of additional support, as well as increasing our donations to those countries of oxygen, ventilators, medicine and other emergency supplies, and lending them UK expertise in tackling the virus, from genome sequencing to epidemiology.
But regardless of those efforts, and those of COVAX, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), the fact remains that the world is not producing and distributing the volume of vaccines we need at the pace we need them to contain the spread of Covid, and to limit the risk of new outbreaks and mutations. What we are seeing in India today will therefore be replicated in other countries over and over again if we do not act.
To end this cycle, we need to address the fundamental and long-standing problem, namely that the world has more capability to invent and develop vaccines than it has to manufacture and distribute them on a global scale. There are many different reasons for that – technical, procedural, financial and political – but what it ultimately means is that we will not bring an end to this pandemic if we simply trust to the current functioning of the market.
We therefore welcome the lead shown by the Biden Administration in recent talks at the World Trade Organisation in relation to the waiver of vaccine patents, and urge you to engage constructively with the United States and our other international partners to turn those discussions into concrete action. As the US Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, said: these are extraordinary circumstances and they require extraordinary measures.
Nevertheless, we know that action on patents alone will not deliver the massive global increase in vaccine production that we need to replicate the speed and scale of the UK vaccination programme in every country in the world. We also know success in this effort will not come from handing down demands to the pharmaceutical industry, but by working in partnership with them – and with the scientific community – as we saw with the Vaccines Task Force.
With all that in mind, and alongside continued progress on the issue of patents, we would like to summarise below what we regard as the key elements of a plan to address the fundamental problem of production capacity on a global scale.
- Building on the audit work already undertaken by CEPI, and taking into account the discussions at last month’s conference on manufacturing capacity in Addis Ababa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) should work rapidly with countries across the world to establish a global register of facilities in every region which could be used either for full-scale vaccine production or for ‘fill and finish’ operations, and assess the potential contribution that each plant – with assistance – could make to production levels in those regions. That would provide the evidential basis to decide how and where to scale up production capacity, and to gauge the difference that each new facility would make.
- On the basis of that audit of capacity, and supported by a global financing agreement (see below), we need a centrally-managed programme of investment to establish and equip dozens of new facilities in countries and regions across the world, raising them to the required standard to undertake vaccine production or ‘fill and finish’ operations, whether through upgrading existing factories or building new plants. The UK will have particular expertise to support this process from the work that is currently under way to build the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Oxford, and – like the VMIC – all these new global facilities should be built for a future beyond this current pandemic.
- Alongside the work to establish those new facilities, we will need an equally significant global procurement programme for essential supplies, providing each new plant with the equipment and raw materials they need to begin production, ranging from filtration systems to vials, and providing the healthcare networks in each country with the equipment they need to store, transport and administer vaccine doses safely. That entire process will require intensive central management at each stage of the supply chain – and increased investment in that supply chain – to ensure the efficient flow of supplies, and quickly identify and resolve any blockages holding up production or distribution of vaccines.
- The WHO’s Covid Technology Access Pool, launched a year ago to facilitate the voluntary sharing of technology, has been almost totally unused. Governments must work with the pharmaceutical industry to drive that process, agreeing a comprehensive plan to transfer the expertise, knowledge and skills required to start vaccine production at the new facilities established around the world, and train the personnel operating them to undertake the processes involved. In many cases, this will require the secondment of staff, so the companies involved will need full compensation for their time, and for the technology, skills and knowledge being shared, all underpinned by licence agreements.
- To control existing outbreaks and ensure efficient vaccine distribution, we must provide an immediate increase in global support for health services in developing countries, and make that the start of a long-term global health strategy to help the billions of people who currently lack access to essential health services or have to pay for them; to address the projected shortfall of 18 million health workers by 2030; and to ensure the better resilience of global healthcare systems to future pandemics. As part of that, we hope the government will reverse its recent cuts to health programmes in the poorest countries, and instead promote the NHS as a model for what is possible worldwide.
- While the driving objective up to this point has been for each country to obtain as many doses as possible of each vaccine that they have deemed safe and viable, the imperative for this next stage must be different. To reach billions of people in the quickest time, the global community must commit to the mass production and distribution of whichever vaccines have proven most efficient to produce, and most stable in terms of transport and storage; and ideally, those vaccines which can be offered as a single dose. While it is not for us to identify those individual vaccines, that discussion needs to take place at global level, informed by the objective advice of each country’s health experts.
- This pandemic should also be the trigger for a coordinated, long-term, properly-funded global effort to develop viable orally active vaccines in solid dose form, building on the innovative work carried out by a number of pharmaceutical companies in the past year. That would be a historic breakthrough, allowing us to produce billions of vaccine doses within weeks, and deploy them cheaply and effectively around the world, and while it is unlikely to impact the current pandemic, it would: (i) make a vast difference to the handling of future pandemics; and (ii) be of considerable benefit if Covid-19 becomes an endemic disease requiring regular booster doses for effective prevention and control.
- Alongside the continuing work on vaccines, we must also see a coordinated global push to accelerate the development of an effective antiviral treatment for Covid-19, with the most promising current candidates given the additional support required to bring them as quickly as possible from trial to deployment. As with the development of an oral vaccine, an effective antiviral has the capacity to be a game-changer in terms of reducing deaths and serious illness resulting from Covid-19, and must be given suitable priority in our global efforts. Similarly, the most promising candidates for effective prophylactic nasal sprays should be given any support required to fast-track their trial and deployment.
- As global vaccine production expands, there will be a constant need to ensure that safety standards are not compromised, and maintain public confidence in the vaccines being produced. We should therefore establish a global body with regulatory powers to guarantee standards of safety in vaccine production, building on models such as our own MHRA (which has the dual role of ensuring that vaccines are safe, and that production plants are regulated properly), and the regulatory taskforce established by the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention during the Ebola crisis, which sat alongside its work on vaccine production and distribution, and focused solely on safety issues.
- Alongside global regulation of safety standards, we will also need a binding, enforceable investment and trade agreement among all participating countries to govern the coordination of supplies and the financing of production, to prevent hoarding of materials and equipment, and to centrally manage the production and distribution process for maximum efficiency and output. The existing proposals of Chad Bown and the Peterson Institute for International Economics for such an agreement cover all these different elements, and build on models that have already proven successful in the US vaccination programme, so should be studied and adopted at the earliest opportunity.
This plan will require extensive long-term funding, not just to finance the required investment in facilities, equipment, raw materials and supporting supply chains, but to compensate the pharmaceutical industry for its extensive contributions. In addition, the growing debt crisis facing the poorest countries will need to be resolved to enable them to make a sustained recovery from the pandemic, and maintain improvements in their health infrastructure.
However, as numerous studies have shown, the costs of funding this plan and resolving that debt crisis must be placed against the far more substantial losses that the global economy will suffer as long as this pandemic continues. A global consensus to finance this plan and resolve the debt crisis in the developing world should therefore be simple common sense.
Nevertheless, alongside the funding available from the World Bank and other established donor bodies, we should consider innovative financing mechanisms to meet those costs, including hypothecating the proceeds of other coordinated action on a global scale, such as the long-overdue crackdowns on tax havens, money laundering and multinational tax avoidance.
Finally, it is absolutely vital that every step in this plan is taken with preparation for future pandemics in mind, not just in terms of introducing the coordination and financing mechanisms by which vaccines can be produced and distributed on a global scale, but by establishing on a permanent basis the physical infrastructure and skills base that will enable that to happen.
In that way, the costs of financing this plan can be weighed not just against the immediate benefits it will bring in respect of Covid-19, but also against the human, social and economic damage we will avoid if we are able to execute this plan and activate the accompanying infrastructure much more efficiently and effectively when the next pandemic strikes.
This will be a monumental task, but if we can achieve it, it will save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world now and in the years to come, it will provide the foundation for a sustained global economic recovery, and it will mean having the freedom and confidence to plan for the future without worrying that fresh mutations of the virus – or new pandemics – are going to plunge countries like ours back into the fear and uncertainty of the past year.
It is therefore a plan to make the world safe now, and more secure in the future, and it should be Britain leading the way in making it happen. But that cannot wait another three weeks for the set-piece announcements of the G7 summit in June, nor risk being derailed by other priorities and disagreements there. We therefore urge you to make urgent progress on discussing this plan with your international counterparts, and putting it into immediate effect.
Because what is happening in India today, and what is happening in countries like ours because of the Indian variant, teaches us a very hard truth. The world should have acted on the vaccine production crisis months ago, and every further day we fail to act on it will see thousands more people suffer cruel deaths that we now have the means to prevent.
The Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP
Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade
Signed on behalf of:
The Rt Hon Lisa Nandy MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs
The Rt Hon Jonathan Ashworth MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
The Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Preet Kaur Gill MP
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Gareth Thomas MP
Shadow Minister of State for International Trade