Last week our Life Sciences & Health practice hosted a global webinar on the current status of the coronavirus pandemic. Medical scientist Dimitri Lavillette explained the incredible advances of immunization in using your own body as a bio-lab in the development of a vaccine – within a single year.
Dr. Richard Jones looked at a different challenge: where do we go next?
Dr. Jones is the South-East Asia Regional Director of International SOS, the world’s leading medical services and security provider employing about 5,200 medical professionals. His clients are corporates who are flooding him with calls asking how they vaccinate an entire workforce and where they go after that?
There is no easy answer, no one size fits all. Last Thursday, the global roll-out of Covid vaccinations looked like this:
- 6 vaccines approved for full use
- 21 candidate vaccines in final stages
- 75 vaccines in clinical evaluation
- 78 vaccines in preclinical evaluation.
This shatters previous records of response in a medical field accustomed to producing at most half a dozen different vaccines for a given disease. But getting these candidates across the finish line is just the first part of the challenge. The extent of current vaccination programs, as measured by doses administered, varies hugely across the world from total coverage (100%) in Israel, 60% in UAE and 10 other regions squeezed in between 2% and 35%.
Big picture? 1.1% of the global population has been fully vaccinated. 6% of the global population, 120 million, has been infected.
Globally, the recovery is all over the place. Developed nations have the jump on vaccine production and distribution. Even within one socio-economic stratum – think USA – we have huge imbalances between the infection-free population and those spreading infection.
Which is why there is a heated debate going on right now in terms of when and how to identify the “infectiousness” of each group with some form of vaccine passport
The freedoms available to each group are radically different. If you are an infection threat you must be socially isolated to protect others. If you are not, should you still have to be under the same restrictions? One, it is not fair. But more important, you are needed in society to help the economy and social normalcy to recover.
International SOS, the organization Dr. Jones belongs to, is primarily a provider of health insurance. A major client is the airline business and international companies with interests all over the world whose success depends on mobility. International SOS has developed Covid passports which are issued to travelers as proof of vaccination they are no longer an infection threat.
Denmark will roll out a digital passport soon and IATA has also developed one to help its airline members. IBM has developed its own Digital Health Pass that would allow access to a public location such as a sports arena, university or workplace.
With the uncertainty of mutant strains and variants threatening the duration of the pandemic, some form of status verification or passport would seem inevitable.
There is pushback from the guardians of personal freedom who fear yet another separation of the haves and have-nots, but the concept of vaccine passports will be hard to work around. The pandemic may not be the worst/widest in history but it is massive. Only 10 countries on the planet have not reported Covid cases and eight of them are islands in the South Pacific.
Which of course begs the final question on passports, on whose authority can we count? Who will produce a digital document unanimously acceptable and accessible?
As they say, good luck with that.