“For the Next Pandemic, We’ll Have Gigantic mRNA Factories in India”

Last year, you talked about the possibility of ending the coronavirus pandemic by 2022. Do you still think it’s possible?

Everyone has been surprised by the Delta variant and how transmissive it is. India was the first place where there was, tragically, explosive growth in cases. The number of cases has come down from that peak, but we have to get these vaccines out far more broadly than we have done so far.

The foundation is very proud that back in the spring of 2020 we got $300 million to Serum (Institute of India). Serum has executed very well on ramping up the volume, making really record numbers of vaccines. Now, we wish we’d have even more, but in the months ahead the numbers are going to go up quite a bit. Novavax will come into the picture. We’ll have Johnson & Johnson. We’ll figure out what can be done with the booster. We’re not quite sure about that right now, but that’s probably beneficial as we get into 2022.

I’d say Delta was the worst variant that anyone ever expected, and so we probably will have cases into part of 2022, and the importance of getting the vaccine coverage up, very high, is even more clear now. My prediction, based on Delta, is that we’ll miss that goal somewhat.

In this year’s Goalkeepers Report you highlight the innovations that Covid-19 has triggered. Which are the ones that hold potential?

Now that the world understands its vulnerability to a pandemic, there will be a huge amount of research and invention of new tools. The diagnostics – we could scale that up much faster. The therapeutics we could do a lot better. We should have a goal that we have so much factory capacity that, even within 200 days, we could make enough vaccines for the entire world.

Will this work, to be ready for the next pandemic, and will it have benefits beyond the pandemic preparedness?

The answer is absolutely yes. The mRNA platform, we’re working with that German company, BioNTech, to do an HIV vaccine using their mRNA technology. We have a malaria vaccine. We think that we can do a very low-cost flu vaccine and bring the worldwide level of flu down dramatically.

Ideally, we would eradicate some of these respiratory viruses because they actually create quite a significant health burden even in normal years, and of course, they can mutate into a form that could cause the next pandemic. I’m hoping that all countries will increase their research in these areas. We’re working with the United States, Europe and the UK on increasing their research budgets. I would hope that India would join in that as well.

There’s a lot of vaccine wastage in several advanced economies. What should be done to prevent this and ensure global cooperation?

It’s been somewhat inequitable. We keep a spreadsheet of where all the doses of the world are, and where they should be given. We weren’t ready, the world wasn’t ready for this pandemic. And so, as we look back on Covax, where the foundation has been very involved, there are some lessons. We could have done some things better, but the key has been the supply, which no one was funding in the spring of 2020 other than the US government.

We got full cooperation between the Western inventors and the Indian manufacturers. The mRNA, sadly, is different enough that there was no capacity for that particular type of vaccine outside the rich countries. Even there, it was completely new.

For the next pandemic, we will make sure we have gigantic mRNA factories in India and the rest of the developing world to achieve our 100-day goal of being able to make vaccines for everyone.

Source: The Times of India

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Author: Surojit Gupta

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