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Transcript: Seth Berkley on “Face the Nation”

▶ Watch Video: Co-head of global vaccine effort says supply shortages pose “big challenge”

The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, that aired Sunday, April 4, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. As long as the virus circulates around the globe, it remains a threat. According to the World Health Organization, more than 30 countries have not yet started vaccinating their population, including almost as you can see there, the entire continent of Africa. COVAX is the largest global vaccination program in history and aims to distribute donated vaccines to countries that may not be able to purchase them. Dr. Seth Berkley is the co-head and joins us from Geneva, where it is into the evening on Sunday. Thank you for joining us.

GAVI CEO DR. SETH BERKLEY: Thank you for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re talking about that global immunity gap here. April 7, that’s Wednesday, is when the World Health Organization wanted all countries to begin administering vaccine. Is there any way to meet that goal?

DR. BERKLEY: Well, we are on our way. We’ve vaccinated 84 countries or- or put- brought vaccines into 84 countries over the last about six weeks. We hope to get over 100 in the next couple of weeks. But I think the big challenge here is the inequity that we talk about between developed countries and developing countries. Of course, as you said, we are only safe if everybody is safe and nothing tells us this like the new variants, because if we have large populations that are not vaccinated, then there is the risk that we will see new variants pop out and they will continue to spread across the world, as we’ve seen with this virus- has been able to do up until now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the first COVAX-provided doses began arriving on the continent of Africa in February. But as we just saw in that map of the 54 countries, I mean, there are big deserts here, essentially where vaccine doses are not being distributed. What is the biggest impediment? Is it supply or is it the logistics to deliver shots and arms?

DR. BERKLEY: So the logistics have come along. Of course, we work- the GAVI Alliance, which I head, is a public-private partnership that works to provide vaccines for developing countries. And we provide about 50% of the world’s childrens with vaccine. We’ve been able to launch 500 vaccines over the last 20 years. So the logistics is not bad. The big challenge right now is access to vaccines. We have gone ahead and placed orders for more than two billion doses, but the majority of those are coming in the second half of the year and in the first half of the year there- because of vaccine nationalism, has meant that there are less doses available. So that’s our biggest challenge. Now, if we had more doses, we could make those available.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Vaccine nationalism, you’re talking about governments essentially favoring their own population rather than shipping necessarily the doses abroad. The outbreak in India, I know, has caused some real slowing of their exports. How badly has that set you back?

DR. BERKLEY: So India is by volume the largest supplier of vaccines for the developing world, and because of the new wave of outbreaks in India right now, the Indian government has stepped up their vaccination programs. And that has meant that they’ve required more doses, which means that they’ve met- made less doses available for the rest of the world. We had expected in March and April about 90 million doses, and we suspect we’ll get much, much less than that. And that is a problem. But we’re in a race because we also see wealthy countries beginning to cover much of their population. And our hope is that they will begin to make their vaccines available to the rest of the world, including ones that they may not use. For example, the US not only has Moderna, Pfizer and J&J, but they also have vaccines from Novavax and of course, from AstraZeneca. Those could be made available and they would make a big difference in terms of- of the supply for the world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you going to ask the US government to donate its supply of AstraZeneca?

DR. BERKLEY: Well, the US has been a fabulous supporter of GAVI and of COVAX, and they recently provided a very substantial financing of about $4 billion.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

DR. BERKLEY: What we’re talking about now is ultimately getting access to the large manufacturing facilities. I mean, the- the US invested heavily at the beginning and has scaled up manufacturing. It invested again and scaled up. Once the US needs are met, those facilities really could be used to come online for the rest of the world, which could help stop the acute pandemic. Our goal would be by the end of this year to stop the acute pandemic, which is critical for global health security.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So President Biden, though, he has an America first vaccine policy, which is we will not ship our doses out and donate them until Americans are fully vaccinated. That is the policy. The US taxpayer has provided about $4 billion, as you said. So what are you doing with the money you have now?

DR. BERKLEY: So the financing we have now is what we’re using to pay for the more than two million doses we’ve ordered, but as I’ve explained, many of those are in the second half of the year. And it really is critical for countries that are now seeing new variants spread and seeing acute disease for them to get vaccines early, to protect their health workers, to protect their elderly and their most vulnerable. And that’s really what we want to do as quickly as possible in every single country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So is there an alternative to the US? I mean, China has gotten a lot of attention for its efforts to push its vaccine. Russia is trying to sell its vaccine to countries in Europe right now. Europe is really struggling itself, and that is a wealthy area. Is there an alternative to US supply or do you really need America to step up?

DR. BERKLEY: So, I mean, there are many suppliers across the world, and it’s not just the U.S. that has an opportunity to share doses they may not be using. So this is not about taking doses away from America. This is about strengthening America’s– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

DR. BERKLEY: –global health security by taking advantage of some vaccines that may not be used. So it is unlikely- Tony Fauci said the other day that he thinks it’s unlikely that the U.S. will ever get to the AstraZeneca vaccine–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

DR.BERKLEY: –given the supplies it has of the other vaccine. So if that’s the case and those vaccines can be made available quickly, that would then help other countries. For us, the challenge is making sure that the only vaccines that we use are ones that have high quality and we know are efficacious. So we require stringent regulatory approval. And that is why it’s taken some time, because as new vaccines come online, they have to go through that complex regulatory process to make sure they’re safe and effective, because if we had a problem with a vaccine, it could affect all vaccinations around the world. So we have to be very careful with safety as our key priority going forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Dr. Berkley, good luck. 

DR. BERKLEY: Thank you so much

MARGARET BRENNAN: We appreciate your time today. We’ll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.

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