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17 February 2021

COVID-19 vaccine rollout demands a truly global approach

Dr Ann Kelly makes a case for improved global health collaboration in the latest WORLD: we got this podcast, stressing a purely national approach will leave us vulnerable to future outbreaks.

People walking towards a lit up vaccine vial

While the UK managed to vaccinate over 15 million of its people against COVID-19 by mid-February 2021, it is clear we won’t be able to return to ‘normal’ as long as the virus continues to circulate at the global level.

Speaking on the WORLD: we got this podcast, Dr Ann Kelly, Reader in Global Health in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, discusses the inherent complexity of vaccinating an entire planet.

While individual countries have a responsibility to protect their citizens and health systems from the impact of the virus, she stresses that global health challenges do require a coordinated global response:

We render ourselves all fragile the minute that we start looking back just upon our own populations. And that’s a hard politics to advance because we are countries, those are the frameworks within which we operate, but as Tedros [Adhanom, Director general of the World Health Organization] said: this is a test of solidarity. And what kinds of imagination do we have for the global landscape that can come out of this?

Dr Ann Kelly

Dr Kelly notes that while the current pandemic has highlighted inequitable access to vaccines and healthcare in general, it has also spurred important conversations around decentralising vaccine manufacturing.

While intellectual property is always going to be a key driver of vaccine development and is of central concern to governments, it is not necessarily the greatest obstacle to mass production.

Infrastructure, logistics and the facilities needed to initiate large-scale production of a vaccine require investment – which many developing nations don’t have.

If we can overcome the barriers to manufacturing vaccines in country, we will be equipped to tackle the virus more effectively, Dr Kelly argues.

This, she says, is even more important as the COVID-19 virus mutates. Vaccines that address the particular variants and population contexts of the places they are being distributed will produce the best results.

Now is an opportune time to encourage innovation, cross-sector collaboration and solution-finding that addresses global challenges like climate change, sustainability and universal health coverage concurrently, urges Dr Kelly.

As we recognise COVID-19’s far-reaching impact on all aspects of life and society we can expect health to become a dominant driver of policy going forward.

Listen to the full podcast with Dr Ann Kelly on iTunes or  Spotify 

In this story

Ann Kelly

Professor of Anthropology & Global Health