In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) introduced this bill to authorize U.S. participation in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a public-private partnership developing vaccines for coronavirus and other highly infectious pathogens. After this bill’s passage by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 29, 2020, Rep. Bera said:
“I’m honored that the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the SAFE Act. It is critically important that we join international efforts to defeat COVID-19. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is helping to lead those efforts by funding several vaccine candidates. I believe in American ingenuity but we need to take a portfolio approach to vaccine development. There’s no guarantee that a U.S. backed vaccine will be developed first and or be effective for all Americans. By joining CEPI, we will help ensure that we have access to vaccines the international community is developing. We also know that until this virus is defeated around the world, we will not be safe here at home. Our world and our economies are simply too interconnected.”
In early September 2020, the U.S. declined to join CEPI’s Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) effort. Instead, the U.S. has been running its own domestic effort, Operation Warp Speed, and the Trump administration has cited its desire not to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) in its refusal to join COVAX. Explaining the Trump administration’s position, White House spokesman Judd Deere said:
“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
Kendall Hoyt, an assistant professor at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine who has consulted for CEPI, says that trying to “go it alone” on vaccine development hurts all parties. Hoyt explains:
“Here’s the case where what’s efficient and in our best interest is also fair. An opportunity for collaboration and diplomacy and wielding soft power—it’s got everything any enlightened leader would want.”
Some experts would prefer to see the World Health Organization (WHO) serve as the coordinating forum for COVID-19 vaccine development and delivery. Margaret Gadabu, head of chancery at the Malawi Embassy in Washington, is among these people. She says:
“The World Health Organization is the best starting point for coming up with recommendations. It has the technical expertise or linkages with academia and think-tanks to develop the recommendations based on science and data.”
Multiple countries, including the U.S., Japan, and the United Kingdom, are already negotiating directly with vaccine developers to ensure that their citizens are among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available.
This legislation passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of 25 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 22 Democrats and three Republicans. It was also included in the more than $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which passed the House on a party-line vote in May 2020 before stalling in the Senate.
Of Note: The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, World Economic Forum, and the governments of India and Norway in 2017. It works to advance vaccination development, fund technologies to speed up the development and production of vaccines against unknown illnesses, and support global pandemic response capacity.
CEPI, Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO) have launched the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of 2021. The coalition aims to deliver two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021 and facilitate globally fair distribution of vaccines as soon as they are available. As of September 2020, 172 countries were involved in the COVAX effort.
In total, CEPI funding supports fifteen COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in clinical development. This includes the Moderna vaccine that announced positive phase III clinical trial results in mid-November 2020.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: SDI Productions)