Covid-19 is a virus that knows no boundaries and has inflicted terrible suffering across the world. Now more than ever, we must remember that no one is safe until everyone is safe. As the World Health Organization (WHO) director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said, a “me first” approach to vaccination won’t defeat Covid.
That is why we at AstraZeneca, working with our partners in the multilateral Covax initiative, are doing all we can to make sure people around the world have access to safe, effective Covid-19 vaccines, wherever they live and regardless of income level. AstraZeneca was the first global pharmaceutical company to lend its support to the initiative and our vaccine will be the single biggest contributor in the first half of this year. I am greatly encouraged that many more companies are joining us in this effort.
Recently, the WHO granted emergency use listing for the AstraZeneca vaccine, paving the way for its rapid rollout, including to low and middle-income countries. In the past 10 days, the first shipments of our vaccine have arrived in more than 30 countries and counting, including Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, the Philippines and Moldova, with the aim of supplying 142 countries with hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine over the coming months. This supply represents the first Covid-19 vaccine for many of these countries. For some, it will be their main source of vaccines.
We have a growing and substantial body of data that demonstrates how effective this vaccine is. Recent real-world data from 1.1 million people in Scotland shows it is highly effective. It reduces the risk of being admitted to hospital because of Covid-19 by 94% after just one dose. These findings were backed by data from Public Heath England, which showed the very high effectiveness of our vaccine in vulnerable elderly members of society. Just in the last week in Europe, we have seen France, Germany and Sweden approving the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65.
But no vaccine, no matter how good, can protect communities until we can get it into people’s arms. To combat this pandemic, we need global scale and global reach – and we need to move at speed. This is why we decided to build more than a dozen regional supply chains around the world to manufacture the vaccine, making use of our own industrial capacity but also sharing our knowhow with more than 20 partners, so that they can add to our total production firepower.
Yet developing, manufacturing and distributing a vaccine is a highly complex endeavour, especially when done at this speed and scale. Making a vaccine is a biological process that allows for little margin for error, which is why it is inevitable that there will be challenges along the way.
We know the vaccines can’t come quickly enough, but it is important to understand that we are still at the very early stages of a production process that is only a few months old. I have no doubt that vaccine supplies will soon go up very substantially, and hundreds of millions – and, gradually, billions – of people will be protected.
If Covid has reminded us all of our collective vulnerability, it has also demonstrated that when we work together, we can be much stronger. Science at its best is a collaborative effort and the fight against Covid-19 has shown how governments, industry, international institutions and academia can come together to achieve something remarkable.
Vaccinating people across the world is without doubt the biggest public health programme in history. Nothing on this scale has ever been attempted before. We now have multiple highly effective vaccines that go beyond the wildest dreams of what anyone had imagined 15 months ago when Covid-19 was first identified. It is truly one of humanity’s greatest scientific achievements, and I am immensely proud of the role AstraZeneca has played in this endeavour.
We made an early commitment to supply billions of doses around the world at no profit, irrespective of a nation’s income level. We joined forces with Oxford University to combine our expertise and accelerate development of the vaccine. And we did this at no profit, because we believe this is the right response to this global public health emergency.
If we stay the course, these highly effective vaccines will begin clearing the path towards something approximating normality throughout the course of this year. But we will only do this if we can make sure the vaccine is available to all. We continue to do everything in our power to make access to the vaccine broad, timely and equitable.
This is the most serious global health emergency of our lifetime, which is why our response must be global. Only then will the amazing power of science have been harnessed to its full potential.