Preparing for the next pandemic
- Publication Date
- Professor Devi Sridhar FRSE
- Maartje Kletter
As scientists prepare for the next pandemic, much focus is on how to create and deploy a vaccine as quickly and effectively as possible. Covid-19 vaccines, which are playing an important role in reducing the impact of Covid-19, became available in only 314 days. One of the institutions that aided the quick development and roll-out of vaccines was the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
CEPI was launched at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, and aimed to develop vaccines in order to stop future epidemics and pandemics¹. The idea for CEPI was first introduced in a 2015 New England Journal of Medicine article, after the Ebola epidemic highlighted problems with vaccine development. Although there were vaccines in early development, these weren’t taken forward due to a lack of incentives for companies to complete testing and produce a vaccine. An Ebola vaccine was not approved until 2019, after the 2014-2016 epidemic had already ended. After it was launched, CEPI initiated projects to develop 17 vaccine candidates against pathogens like Lassa virus, MERS-CoV and Rift Valley fever, amongst others.
CEPI recognised the threat of coronaviruses and had already invested $140 million in the development of a MERS-CoV vaccine, which allowed CEPI to quickly turn their attention to finding a vaccine for Covid-19. They invested in at least 12 vaccine candidates, including the Oxford AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines.
When it became clear that vaccines for Covid-19 would be needed on a global scale, CEPI also looked at vaccine accessibility. Because the coalition had started in 2017 already, Covid-19 was ‘just’ an extension of CEPI’s work, which allowed them to respond quickly.
Despite the quick development and availability of vaccines, albeit in some countries (accessibility to vaccines is improving, but still sub-optimal), in March 2021 CEPI announced their aim to develop a vaccine in less than 100 days, more than three times as fast as vaccine development for Covid-19, which was already very quick compared to the previous record for fast vaccine development: four years (for mumps in the 1960s). CEPI believes developing a vaccine in less than 100 days is possible as Covid-19 has been a catalyst for rapid scientific and technological development of vaccines.
To develop a vaccine in less than 100 days, good preparation is essential. For Covid-19, for example, one of the reasons vaccines became available as quickly as they did was because of years of previous research, sufficient funding and faster ways to manufacture vaccines. So, looking ahead, CEPI aims to enhance global collaboration and to strengthen global preparedness to reduce global epidemic and pandemic risk. They aim to optimise current vaccines against Covid and address variants of concern to reduce the risk of future coronavirus pandemics. Additionally, CEPI aims to develop vaccines for known threats, while working to reduce vaccine development timelines by preparing clinical trial and establish global networks for lab capacity. They also aim to prepare a library of vaccines against pathogens that could potentially cause epidemics and pandemics, which would allow them to respond quickly. Finally, they aim to develop infrastructure and expertise in low and middle-income countries, allowing them to take full ownership of their national health security. CEPI’s investment in all the above could potentially reduce impact of a future epidemic or pandemic.
‘Preventable: The Politics of Pandemics and How to Prevent the Next One’ will be released in May 2022 (by Prof Devi Sridhar).
Professor Devi Sridhar FRSE, Chair in Global Public Health and Director, Global Health Governance Programme, University of Edinburgh
This article originally appeared in ReSourcE magazine Winter 2021.
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