December 8, 2022

‘By April-May, Omicron may be in the past’ | India News – Times of India

Mark Suzman, CEO and the newly-inducted board member of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is hopeful that the Omicron threat is likely to recede by April-May for most countries, including India. In an interview withSurojit Gupta, Suzman says helping set up mRNA factories will be an important area of collaboration with India in the months ahead. Excerpts from the interview:
When do you think the Covid-19 pandemic will end, or are we going to be in this for some time?
We track the WHO’s work and briefing. If you look at some of the modellings done by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), they are predicting that, while we’re still in the midst of a sort of steep Omicron crisis, there is a fair likelihood that it will start to decline fairly steeply, and by around April or May it might be, or for most countries, including India, mostly in the rearview mirror. We need to keep monitoring for other variants.
Why do you think the world and Covax have not been able to adequately address the issue of vaccine inequality?
Over the last two years, and especially the last year, the inequity in global distribution of vaccines has remained a big challenge. Covax was not able to meet many of its original commitments, largely because supplies had been taken up by wealthier countries for their own citizens. And that led to significant delays and setbacks. That has now started to change significantly. Covax recently distributed its one-billionth dose. It is on track to keep expanding at a rapid pace… Vaccination rates in low-income countries are still far lower than they need to be. We’re hopeful that this is a year that that changes, and it does require continued support to Covax from countries, both in terms of financial support and donations of doses. Certainly, India’s role and Indian manufacturers’ role, particularly with the Covishield vaccines, will be a big key going forward to meeting those objectives.
Last year, Bill Gates had told us in an interview that when the next pandemic comes, the effort will be to get large mRNA factories in India. Is there any progress on that?
We’ve been investing for some years and looking at ways mRNA might be able to be used to address diseases like malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis, in addition to Covid and potential future pandemic threats. As part of that, India, as a long-time global leader in vaccine production, will absolutely have a critical part to play in mRNA production going forward. We’ve been engaged in some discussions providing technical support and connections to Indian counterparts. This is something that Bill Gates did discuss with the PM when they met at the COP26 in Glasgow at the end of last year, and we think that will be a very important area of collaboration going forward.
What is the foundation’s assessment of how the Indian government has dealt with the pandemic in all the three waves?
India’s response has been very strong. This pandemic has posed a unique challenge in every country because the world hasn’t faced something like this before. Just taking the example of the vaccine programme and where India is one year after launching it with over 1.6 billion doses, I think is a very impressive model for the rest of the world. As always, there are lessons, for some of the things around the oxygen provision in areas where we look and hope we can build on and prepare for future threats, but overall, a very strong response, and we’ve been proud and pleased to be able to help partner and work with our Indian counterparts.

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