According to a new report published by WHO’s Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, governments around the world are no better prepared to face a new pandemic than they were at the end of 2019, when Covid-19 struck. Although the panel – established in July 2020 – made recommendations for improving political leadership, financing, and surveillance system, it seems that little has changed, and the world remains highly vulnerable to the emergence and spread of infectious diseases.
“One year on, and political focus to prepare for more waves is flagging,” wrote the report authors. “Work has begun to prevent the next pandemic, but at the current pace, the transformative change required will take years to complete.”
The scientists discussed the uneven distribution of vaccines around the globe as one of the main problems that needs to be overcome, if we are to avoid situations such as the current Covid catastrophe in North Korea – a country that adamantly refused vaccination and is now facing a frightening Omicron surge that infected almost ten percent of the country’s population in less than two weeks.
Such uncontrolled spread of the virus could easily lead to the emergence of new, more dangerous variants. “Variants may still emerge that our vaccines cannot manage,” wrote the study authors. “The more quickly we vaccinate now, the less likelihood there is of ever more variants emerging.”
Currently, rich countries have more vaccines than they could possibly use, leaving many low- and middle-income countries without adequate supplies of vaccines. WHO estimates that fewer than 13 percent of the people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Since vaccine production is now close to its limits, new manufacturing capacity for both mRNA and other types of vaccines must be urgently built in places such as Africa and Latin America in order to prevent future waves. “Boosting production takes time, so enabling it must begin now,” the experts wrote.
In order to guard against new Covid variants as well as other viruses with pandemic potential, the panel recommends stronger leadership and better coordination at regional, national, and international levels.
The experts also emphasize the need for investment in preparedness now instead of when the next crisis hits, an improved system for surveillance and alert, a pre-negotiated platform able to produce vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, and supplies and secure their fast and equitable distribution as essential global common goods, and increased access to financial resources both for preparedness operations and for urgently tackling any emerging threats.
The full report can be found here.