By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter 

THE failure of the COVAX facility to deliver equitable vaccine access showed the importance of building capacity at the regional level for funding, research, and delivery of resources, said a Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) official.   

“What is important is providing capacity in the regions and making sure institutions and countries have access to these tools,” said Nathalie Ernoult, deputy head of policy and advocacy of MSF’s Access Campaign, in a June 20 video call. “There is a way to have different models of response. Let’s work with that diversity of capabilities — rather than trying to have a one-size-fits-all model.”   

The COVAX Facility (COVAX), envisioned as a global vaccine procurement facility that would share access to COVID-19 vaccines to every country regardless of income, failed to deliver on its promise, MSF said in December 2021.   

“The rapid rate at which scientists produced multiple highly effective COVID-19 vaccines was an epic public health achievement. Yet as the data reflect, efforts over the past year to equitably distribute those vaccines have been a failure,” MSF said in its report. 

Differing national interests make it difficult to formulate a centralized response despite facing a common threat, Ms. Ernoult added. “It [COVAX] didn’t work. It’s not going to work tomorrow. Let’s take it for granted it’s not coming together,” she said. “If you have a lot of political and financial power, you are always better placed to decide what equity means for you … I think, in a way, it [COVAX] was kind of a failure in multilateralism.” 

Self-reliance in meeting health needs includes increasing the production of diagnostic products at both the local and regional levels. 

These include Ateneo de Manila University’s Integrated Protein Research Development Center under the Department of Science and Technology, which will develop the technology required for the production of proteins used in the biomedical and food industries.  

“We’re developing local diagnostics so we can bring them to the places that do need them,” said Ricardo Jose S. Guerrero, research fellow at Ateneo Research Institute for Science and Engineering, in a November 2021 event by MSF. 

Another is the Virology Institute of the Philippines. Scheduled to open between 2023 and 2024, it will conduct research and development on diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics. 

Highlighting the need for regional production, Ms. Ernoult shared that MSF identified hundreds of suppliers that could have received the technology to produce mRNA vaccines. 

“Some are in Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia — but there was no willingness to share the know-how to manufacture [these mRNA vaccines],” she said.  

“How do you share know-how during a pandemic? How do you remove intellectual copyright?” she asked. “In [a] pandemic, you need timely response. You need manufacturers in different places.” 

The World Health Assembly in December 2021, kickstarted a process to develop a global accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.  

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said the decision represented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture for the well-being of all. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the many flaws in the global system to protect people from pandemics: the most vulnerable people going without vaccines; health workers without needed equipment to perform their life-saving work; and ‘me-first’ approaches that stymie the global solidarity needed to deal with a global threat,” said to Dr. Tedros in a press statement. 

“But at the same time, we have seen inspiring demonstrations of scientific and political collaboration, from the rapid development of vaccines, to today’s commitment by countries to negotiate a global accord that will help to keep future generations safer from the impacts of pandemics,” he said.