US Rejoining COVAX Should Involve More Resources, Says Fauci

The US decision to join COVAX “is likely to mean resources” to be able to get vaccines for people, Dr Tony Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor, told the International AIDS Society’s COVID-19 conference this week.

Fauci also told the conference that scientists were taking the SARS-COV2 variant identified in South Africa so seriously “that we’re actually going to make a version of that in an mRNA and do Phase One and Two clinical trial”. 

Anthony Fauci, The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

He added that if vaccines already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needed to be modified to address the new variant, he hoped that the FDA would consider this as “a strain change” so that the vaccine did not have to go through a new approval process.

But Fauci expressed concern that, while modifying vaccines to address variants “immediately attacks the problem at hand.. the downside is that you don’t want to be chasing mutations over the next couple of months and making an upgrade, upgrade. 

“So the long game of what we want to do is to get a universal coronavirus [vaccine] that is specific for SARS-COV2 so that we don’t have to keep chasing every time there’s a relevant mutation.”

He said that it was “very scary” to see situations where some people who seemed to be adhering very closely to non-pharmacological interventions – like wearing masks and physically distancing – were still getting infections. 

“We have a lot of discussion in our country right now about the proper use of masks.”

An executive order signed by President Biden on 21 January, made it mandatory for everyone on public transport to wear a mask.

A Most Extraordinary, Cunning Enemy

Fauci also described the SARS-COV2 as “a most extraordinary, cunning enemy that has so many characteristics that have foiled us along the way”.

“It has the spectacular capability of spreading from person to person, and more than half of the people who get infected get infected from someone who has no symptoms, while about 40% of the people who are infected have no symptoms. 

“It then seeks out vulnerables, the elderly, and those with underlying conditions. It seeks out people who are in so many respects throughout their lives in compromised positions in the United States.

“So we’re in an unprecedented challenge. But there is light at the end of the tunnel if we can implement a global programme to get the world vaccinated, not just the rich countries, but the entire world.”

Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Earlier on Tuesday, Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the vaccine alliance GAVI, said that while he agreed with activists on the urgent need to get everyone vaccinated, he was not sure that the tactic trying to get intellectual property rights waived on COVID-19 related products at the World Trade Organisation would work for vaccines.

“For drugs and diagnostics, getting rid of the TRIPS arrangements and having patents freely available may be the solution. But the critical issue for vaccines is know how.”

“AstraZeneca had enabled the Serum Institute of India to make its vaccine via a tech transfer and actually we want to pay for those tech transfers to other companies.”

Waiving intellectual property rights may prevent cooperation, whereas with tech transfers meant that,  “as problems in manufacturing have occurred, these have been discussed on a daily basis across the different manufacturers moving forward”.

“And that’s allowed this scale up, which has occurred in absolutely record time.”

Image Credits: R Santos/HP Watch.

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