Speakers at a panel discussion at the World Immunisation and Logistics Summit.
Image Credit: Screengrab

Abu Dhabi: More than 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across the world so far, vaccinating about five per cent of the global population.

But far greater efforts are needed to ensure that vaccination extends to the required 60 per cent of global population, top international experts said at a vaccine access summit led by Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

A logistics hub like Abu Dhabi can play a critical role in supporting vaccine production and delivery, said Dr Robert Hatchett, chief executive officer at the vaccine research foundation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Early efforts

“Abu Dhabi is literally the centre of the world, and it … understands, as well as any other community, how interconnected the world is. The speed of the UAE response to the unfolding of the pandemic reflects its understanding of the vulnerability of the world to the pandemic. As we go forward, the world will learn lessons from it, and from countries like South Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and China. These are the countries that were willing to jump in early and secure vaccines even before we knew which vaccines would be successful, and are now among the leaders in vaccine roll-out to their populations,” Hatchett said.

He was speaking on the first day of the World Immunisation and Logistics Summit, a two-day conference convened by the Hope Consortium to discuss vaccine access and delivery across the world.

Vaccination efforts

The world currently has nine different vaccines, including Sinopharm, Pfizer, Moderna, Astra Zeneca and Sputnik. Four are currently freely available in the UAE, with the country having so far administered more than eight million doses to vaccinate more than half of its eligible adult population. “If we can end the acute phase of the pandemic by protecting the most vulnerable, the virus may continue to circulate, but we can take away the economics and cost of human life out of the pandemic, and we hope to do that by the end of this year,” Hatchett said.

The Hope Consortium, an Abu Dhabi-led public-private partnership, itself hopes to distribute 18 billion COVID-19 vaccines doses through the UAE capital. Led by Abu Dhabi’s health regulator, the Department of Health (DoH), and boasting the support of Abu Dhabi Ports, Etihad Airways’ cargo division — Etihad Cargo, procurement provider Rafed, container solutions provider SkyCell and digital solutions provider, Maqta Gateway, the Consortium aims to support the equitable global distribution of vaccines.

Need for speed

Abdullah Al Hamed, DoH chairman, stressed that any response to a pandemic requires speed and rapidity. “With this pandemic, we have seen a lot of mistakes in the early stages, and we have seen hesitation in taking decisions about it being a pandemic. This has allowed for the global outbreak. Politics have also played a big role in diverting our focus instead of focusing on health issues,” Al Hamed said.

UAE vaccine production

Abu Dhabi will itself soon begin producing COVID-19 vaccines. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, announced on Sunday the new Life Sciences and Vaccine Manufacturing in the UAE initiative for the joint production of the Sinopharm inactivated vaccine. Abu Dhabi’s vaccine product will be called Hayat-Vax, and it will be the same Sinopharm vaccine that underwent Phase III trials in the country from July 2020 onwards.
Hayat means ‘life’ in Arabic, and the production of this vaccine in the UAE will be handled by G42, the Abu Dhabi-based technology company that facilitated the Sinopharm vaccine trials in the Gulf. In fact, manugfacturing has already begun at Ras Al Khaimah-based pharmaceuticals manufacturer, Julphar. The facility can initially produce two million doses a month.
A purpose-built research and development hub will also be set up at Abu Dhabi’s KIZAD free zone this year, with an annual vaccine production capacity of 200 million vaccine doses.

“Approving vaccines is the next challenge, but some countries are only approving their own, and this is not the right thing at this moment. [The world cannot have enough vaccines produced] for the next six to seven years, no matter where the vaccines are produced,” he added.

Supply ecosystem

According to Al Hamed, only international cooperation and vaccine delivery can ensure the end of the pandemic.

To that end, the Hope Consortium has set up a massive 19,000-square metre cold storage facility that can hold 180 million vaccine doses at a time, and safely store them at temperatures between -80 degrees Celsius and 8 degrees Celsius. It aims to source vaccines at their point of manufacture, and distribute the doses safely till the last mile. “Abu Dhabi has been a great leader because it has faced problems head-on from the beginning. It has also viewed global health as a global public good rather a matter for a nationalist agenda. It also has a unique position as a logistics hub at the centre of Africa, Asia and the Middle East,” said Professor Jose Manuel Barroso, board chair for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which works to improve access to vaccines around the world.

The two-day summit will see international experts discuss challenges in vaccine manufacture and last-mile delivery as the world ramps up vaccine production.

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