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Blair Pushes Plan for Vaccinating the World in US, UK’s ‘Self-Interest’

May 26, 2021 by Kate Michael
Visit by Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the EC to Moscow, where she takes part in the Quartet meeting: Tony Blair, Middle East Quartet Representative

WASHINGTON — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a vocal monitor of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, even sometimes criticizing the process in the U.K., which in many respects led the global vaccination effort earlier this year. Through his Institute for Global Change, Blair’s team has produced studies on wide-ranging COVID topics, from plans for vaccine acceleration to prioritizing key workers, embracing a COVID pass to preparing for the next pandemic.

Now, he says the focus should shift from short-term production of vaccine doses to creating a long-term broader framework for coordinating vaccine production and distribution globally. And this isn’t a purely humanitarian goal.

“This is probably the biggest challenge of government that the world has ever known,” Blair told a virtual gathering at The Wilson Center, an independent research organization. “It’s a matter of organization, a matter of leadership, a matter of the world coming together and recognizing that it has a common interest in making sure that as much of the world as possible is vaccinated this year.”

“It’s so obvious when you start to analyze the problem, that unless you also reserve some space for global coordination, whatever you do in your own country is insufficient,” he said, while also reminding that coordinated efforts are “much easier to organize if you have proper data.” 

Ambassador Mark Green, who currently serves as the president, director, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, echoed Blair’s concerns.

“We’re seeing too much talk in the media about any export of vaccines as being sort of a humanitarian cause. No,” said Green. “I happen to [also] believe in the humanitarian motivation for doing so, but this is in our self-interest, because if we fail to elevate global vaccination — unless we get global vaccination to scale — we’re really at risk of everything coming undone.”

Earlier this month, there was a shortfall of some 140 million COVID-19 vaccine doses intended to be distributed to low and middle-income countries through the end of May. A large portion of the allocation from COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, was to come out of the Serum Institute of India. Due to India’s own rampant health crisis, the lion’s share of the Serum Institute’s doses was, instead, essentially earmarked for domestic consumption in India.

But supply is only part of the problem. Even if production capacity were on target, vaccine hesitancy combined with countries’ lack of strategic vision when it comes to vaccinating key populations could be to the global detriment. 

“We don’t have to wait on supply of vaccines to work on absorptive capacity in the field,” said Green. 

“There is no success, there is no safety unless everyone succeeds and everyone is safe,” Green added. “We’ve been thinking in terms of vaccine doses[But] what we haven’t been doing enough of is thinking of that broader framework and understanding that it’s not simply producing… it’s also making sure that those doses actually get into the arms of key populations.”

Blair’s Institute for Global Change is proposing a worldwide vaccination plan that he says is “based on a very simple concept… control diseases as fast as possible. Because there is still a risk that the virus keeps mutating. And if it keeps circulating, the risk is we get a mutation against which vaccines are either effective or ineffective.” 

The plan, which will be put forward before the G7 Summit in June is what Green called “a roadmap for success.” 

According to Blair, the components are to “find out exactly where vaccine production is happening, work out how to boost it to the fullest extent possible using existing and repurposed capacity, and distribute it according to a plan vaccinating the strategically vulnerable population first.”

The plan assumes that 100% of OECD countries will be vaccinated, and makes G20 countries the advisory body deciding where vaccines would be allocated. “The practical politics of this is to start with some key players who’ve got strong relationships and build out from there,” said Blair. “You don’t want to go into some sort of political morass when you could be taking practical actions… [And] if the U.S. and U.K are pushing practical plans, you’ve got a much better opportunity of getting them adopted.”

Using what Blair calls “an equity-focused solution to allocating vaccines,” he offered that “strategic parts of the population that are necessary [include] densely populated urban areas, key workers, [and] the most vulnerable.”

To battle the pandemic — and future pandemics — Blair and Green stressed the need to prioritize strategic vaccination, push international cooperation, and strengthen countries’ health care systems.

“I would love to be able to tell everybody this will soon be over. No more shots. And that’s simply not the case, “ said Green. 

While critics may argue that the Institute for Global Change’s plan is U.S., U.K.-centric, it does offer a mechanism for coordinating production and distribution going into the future. 

“Simply producing more vaccines and getting them into capitals falls short of where we need to be on this framework,” said Green. For a “practical future that we can all live with… [this is] not just a response to the current ongoing health crisis, but a way to prepare for future pandemics.”

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