Reflections on 2021 from CEPI CEO Dr Richard Hatchett

Reflections on 2021 from CEPI CEO Dr Richard Hatchett
21 Dec 2021
By Dr. Richard Hatchett
…Whatever its ultimate impact, I believe the emergence of Omicron will come to be seen as a watershed event in the unfolding of the pandemic.  Policymakers and elected officials should pay close attention to what Omicron is telling us.  It encapsulates both how far we have come, even since 2020, and how far we have yet to go.  And it portends our future with COVID….

…But we must also use the momentum the pandemic has created to institutionalize and improve our new response capabilities and to drive the creation of new norms of collective action and accountability.  The response to Omicron, in its positive aspects, exemplifies the ways in which we must be ready to respond to any future threat and the speed and seriousness with which we must act to counter it even as we perform our assessments and gather information.  Omicron’s emergence also provided dramatic backlighting for, and helped propel, the Special Session of the World Health Assembly that convened the week of November 29 to begin deliberations on an international framework or convention on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.  Developing such a framework or convention will require sustained diplomacy and likely take years but I am confident the effort will succeed and that the agreements achieved at the Special Session will come to be regarded as foundational.

CEPI will contribute to this momentum in the coming months as we begin to implement our CEPI 2.0 agenda.  We have already announced seed funding for three programs under our Broadly Protective SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine initiative and will soon announce our first awards to support the development of Broadly Protective Betacoronavirus Vaccines.  With Wellcome Leap, we are co-funding 17 different performers under an RNA Readiness and Response (R3) initiative that aims to increase exponentially the number of biologic products that can be designed, developed, and produced every year, reducing their costs and increasing equitable access; and to create a self-sustaining network of manufacturing facilities providing globally distributed, state-of-the-art surge capacity to meet future pandemic needs.  In January, we will put out a call to begin the development of our vaccine libraries and issue a report laying out our thinking about how to achieve the 100-Day Mission – all in the lead-up to our March 2022 Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit, hosted by the government of the United Kingdom.  The Summit will provide an opportunity for world leaders to demonstrate their support for epidemic and pandemic preparedness, the role research and development can play in enabling such preparedness, the institutional capabilities and norms we need to establish to achieve the 100-Day Mission, the value of collective action against common threats, and the overriding imperative to secure access for all to vaccines and other countermeasures….

…Jeremy Farrar, the Director of Wellcome, has said we may still be closer to the beginning of the pandemic than to its end.  Our work through COVAX will and must continue.  And I am sure that 2022 will present many unforetold challenges, just as 2021 did.  But even as we rise to meet whatever 2022 throws at us, we must envision and work toward the future that we desire for the long term.
And how do we accomplish that?  A friend, a journalist, had the opportunity recently to travel to Oslo to attend the ceremony honoring his longtime friend and colleague Maria Ressa, who, with Dmitry Muratov, received the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”  After my friend returned, he called her Nobel Address to my attention as an “important document for our times” (it is; I commend it to you all).  Two statements in her Address have stuck with me:

…We are standing on the rubble of the world that was, and we must have the foresight and courage to imagine what might happen if we don’t act now, and instead, create the world as it should be – more compassionate, more equal, more sustainable…

…Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without trust, we have no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with our world’s existential problems: climate, coronavirus, the battle for truth.

The first statement calls us to recognize our predicament and to have the courage to imagine and begin working towards a better future.  The second reminds us of the conditions required for communities to flourish and to work together to tackle their greatest problems.  Courage, foresight, imagination, facts, trust, and a shared reality:  lacking these, it will be all but impossible to deal with the challenges ahead.  But with them, we can do anything – we can move mountains.