The vaccine race is well and truly on. Billions of investment and the excellence of global scientists give us confidence that it’s a race we will win. The development of the vaccine is a huge challenge in itself; the delivery of it, at speed, around the world is even greater. Developing a vaccine normally takes a decade; getting to 80 per cent global coverage generally takes about 30 years. For example, the Rotavirus vaccine was first made available in 2006; 15 years later, global coverage is at 37 per cent. We are now attempting to deliver a vaccine ten times faster, to ten times more people, with ten times the complexity of any previous vaccination programme.
Britain has begun work on its programme and is playing a leading role in vaccine development. But we and others should follow three key principles. First, planning. The logistics of delivering the vaccine will be mind-boggling; it’s estimated that the equivalent of 8,000 jumbo jets will be needed to distribute it. There will also be huge refrigeration challenges in many developing countries. Moreover, a vaccine delivered in an ongoing pandemic poses new levels of complexity. The World Health Organisation and the Gates Foundation are already working on solutions.
Second, prioritisation. We have to ensure that those most at risk get it first. Next month’s G20 summit should agree an approach based on need rather than leaving it to a free-for-all in which nations such as China hoard supplies.
Third, protection. Monitoring the various vaccines during their introduction around the world will have to happen at unprecedented scale and speed. It will therefore need an unprecedented level of surveillance and sharing of data that governments must consider now.
Finally, public support. We cannot rely on universal enthusiasm for a vaccine. In an age of social media misinformation, there needs to be a global communication strategy to win over sceptics to ensure herd immunity. Governments should start thinking about this now, not later.
It’s in all our interests that every country starts to prepare and that we co-operate with other nations. The international community will not be forgiven by citizens if the need to deliver a vaccine at scale and speed seems to take it by surprise.
Sir Michael Barber is chairman of Delivery Associates and author of How to Run a Government