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Everyone Wins from Vaccine Cooperation

The only way to develop and deploy a COVID-19 vaccine at the pace and scale that the current crisis demands is through international coordination. Unlike national-level strategies, a collective approach both minimizes the risks and maximizes efficiency.

CAMBRIDGE – As countries around the world ponder strategies for developing a COVID-19 vaccine, it should be clear that the fastest and most effective approach is to work together. More than any other single intervention, a widely distributed, effective vaccine would allow the world economy to restart. With $375 billion in global wealth evaporating each month, that moment cannot come soon enough.

So far, world leaders have pledged $8 billion in funding for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global partnership to develop diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines. Yet that is only a fraction of the investment needed to bring a vaccine rapidly to scale. Fewer than one in ten vaccine or drug candidates that enter clinical trials is eventually approved for use. And, once approved, scaling up production to the necessary levels will introduce many more uncertainties. Vaccine manufacturing is an intricate process, requiring approval by regulators at each stage and in each facility. With some of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates having been built on hitherto unlicensed platforms, these safety and quality-control protocols could pose additional challenges to rapid deployment.

The best way to manage these risks is to collaborate. Multilateral investment in a diversified portfolio of vaccine candidates would help to scale up production capacity as soon as a vaccine’s safety and efficacy have been established. Provided that much remains unknown about the novel coronavirus, we estimate that an investment of about $145 billion (.17% of world GDP) would be ideal, but that a program just half that size would yield substantial benefits. Although the United States and China are pursuing individual investment strategies, both could still advance their own national interests through international collaboration, either by way of the ACT Accelerator or via pooled contracts negotiated directly between countries and firms.