After COVID-19, Five Policy Recommendations from Malaysia
Malaysian MP Kelvin Yil Lee Wuen at the UNITE Global Summit on December 5, 2022.
Malaysian MP Kelvin Yil Lee Wuen at the UNITE Global Summit on December 5, 2022.

COVID-19 was a “global stress test” for parliamentarians, whose job is to propose policies, said Kelvin Yil Lee Wuen, a parliamentarian from Malaysia.

Speaking Monday at the UNITE Global Summit in Lisbon, the MP proposed five global policy recommendations, which he said his own country had adopted.

1 – Create conducive policies and infrastructure to enable innovation

According to Wuen, countries must enhance platforms and processes so that the public and private sector can innovate in real time.

2 – Establish robust and comprehensive inner-country and global data and knowledge sharing

Wuen said that countries should work together to determine and implement best practices.

In addition, the world should look toward a global medical network. By agreeing on standards between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency and other regulatory bodies “it doesn’t have to take so much time to approve new drugs, interventions and vaccines. We have to figure out how to be more efficient.”

3 – Invest in global capabilities for the early characterization of pathogens and assessment

4 – Improve and increase education

“We need to empower the people by breaking misinformation early,” said Wuen.

He recalled that there was a rise in fake news in Malaysia during the pandemic, including around basic principles, like what it means for a vaccine to receive emergency use approval.

“We need to educate people so that in the future when vaccines are approved the public has assurance that they are safe to use and that their benefits outweigh their risks,” Wuen stressed.

He noted that improving communications should happen immediately if the world wants to be ready for the next crisis.

“In a public health crisis, communication is as important – if not more important – than medical intervention,” Wuen said. “To get people to comply, they need to have confidence in the system and to have that trust they need communication.”

5 – A fair, equitable, inclusive and accountable distribution network

Wuen said that on the domestic and international levels, systems must be developed to distribute drugs, treatments and vaccines. He said “this includes the controversial topic of an intellectual property (IP) waiver for life-saving vaccines.

“It is vaccines in bodies that save lives,” Wuen added.

The pandemic reignited a long-standing debate about the right balance between private profits and public health. While some argued that the World Trade Organization rules on IP harmed access to COVID vaccines in poor countries, others said lifting it would remove the incentive for drugmakers to keep developing the life-saving shots.

A partial IP waiver on COVID vaccines was agreed on in June and the WTO’s TRIPS’s Council has until 17 December to decide whether to extend it.

“The COVID response had its ups and downs, but vaccine inequality is one of our biggest moral failings,” Wuen said.

Vaccines in 100 days?

CEPI Director of Policy Neren Rau speaking at the UNITE Global Summit on December 5, 2022.
CEPI Director of Policy Neren Rau speaking at the UNITE Global Summit on December 5, 2022.

Wuen spoke as part of a UNITE Global Summit session titled “Preparing for the pandemic by developing vaccines in 100 days.” The session featured two speakers from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), including Director of Policy Neren Rau.

He offered his organization’s plan to ensure there are vaccines for everyone during the next pandemic, which centers on more diversified vaccine manufacturing. CEPI has developed more than 70 partnerships in 50 countries around the world to develop vaccines, enable vaccines and get them into the right people’s hands at a reasonable cost.

“Access lies at the heart of our plan,” Rau said. “Achieving the 100-day plan aspiration would give the world a fighting chance of tackling and containing outbreaks before they spread and become pandemics.”

CEPI’s 100-day plan is to develop a working vaccine within 100 days of the start of the next pandemic.

The first vaccines – for typhoid fever and meningitis – took more than 100 years to develop. The vaccine for Ebola took 20 years. It took 364 days to get the first approved COVID-19 vaccine, Rau said, and with the proper efficiencies, the number of days it would take to develop the next vaccine would be only 250.

So, why is CEPI so focused on 100 days?

“The lives that will be saved,” Rau stressed. “The difference is almost 70 million lives between 364 days and 100 days.”

But he added that the plan only works if the vaccine is distributed to the country or region of the outbreak “regardless of where that might be.”

He said, “this requires a fundamental shift in international collaboration and cooperation toward a system founded on the principles of equitable access.”

The COVID-19 pandemic will not be the world’s last, Wuen added. The next one is “closer than we think.”

The UNITE Global Summit runs from Dec. 5-7, 2022. Click here for full coverage.
Reporting for this series was supported by UNITE Parliamentarians for Global Health.

Image Credits: Maayan Hoffman.

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