Remarks by Paolo Sison, Director, Innovative Finance
Accepting the Roger E. Joseph Prize to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
May 8, 2022 – HUC/New York
Thank you so much, Roxanne, for that lovely introduction and tribute to Gavi.
Thank you to the entire Joseph family for this extraordinary recognition. It’s humbling for me and all my colleagues to be among the many great luminaries who have received the Roger E. Joseph Prize in the past.
Also, I want to offer very special congratulations to all of you receiving your rabbinical ordination here today. It is, I’m sure, a very big day for all of you and for your families, and a well-deserved culmination of your many years of study and commitment. I hope that your wisdom, intention, energy, and commitment will be a fresh source of strength and sustenance for the people you reach, for the Jewish community and for the world for many years ahead. Mazel tov to all of you!
As Roxanne said, my name is Paolo Sison. I am the Washington, D.C.-based Director of Innovative Finance for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. I also serve as the head of Gavi’s Washington, D.C., office.
I come from the Philippines, where many of my relatives still live. After pursuing a career in investment banking in London, I joined Gavi 11 years ago, attracted by its mission and its extraordinary impact.
I mention that to give you a sense of the sort of people who work in Gavi’s professional secretariat, which is made up of people from about a hundred different countries around the world. Many bring expertise in business and finance; others help us engage with the countries Gavi supports. And still others are scientists and public health specialists.
In fact, Gavi is very much of a group effort involving a diverse range of players. Its strength is grounded in the power of partnership. It is an alliance, not just in name, but in actual practice. Among others, our alliance works because it is made up of:
leading international organizations, donor countries like the U.S. government, which has contributed generously to Gavi since its founding in 2000;
International organizations such as the WHO, Unicef, and the World Bank who provide their deep expertise;
Private sector foundations, corporate partners, and individual supporters;
and, of course, the governments of the many dozen lower-income countries that we serve, and that partner with us to deliver life-saving vaccines and improve the health of their populations.
This alliance has proven that to tackle global challenges we need global responses from a wide array of partners all over the world.
With that in mind, Gavi launched in 2000, after efforts had stalled to bring the protective power of vaccines to more of the world’s children. At the time, nearly 30 million children in lower-income countries were not fully immunized against deadly diseases. Many others weren’t immunized at all.
A big part of the problem was that most lower-income countries could not afford even the most basic vaccines – at least not at the prices that wealthier countries were able to pay.
Moreover, vaccine manufacturers were afraid that, if they tried to enter those markets, they would lose money – or at best it would take them a very long time to recover their investment.
Gavi was invented to fix this market failure.
By bundling the demand of many different lower-income countries, Gavi was able to promise vaccine manufactures a large, predictable, and relatively long-term volume of sales. That gave the vaccine makers the confidence to enter markets they had previously avoided for fear of losing money.
In return, Gavi asked the manufacturers to lower vaccine prices substantially – in some cases by up to 90% – to levels that lower-income countries can afford once they transition out of Gavi programs. Gavi also provides some subsidies to lower-income countries for their vaccines, but only if they paid a share of the cost out of their own domestic budgets.
Roxanne has already mentioned that this model made it possible for Gavi to help vaccinate more than 900 million children in 77 countries and ultimately prevent more than 15 million estimated future deaths. In most of those countries, Gavi, working with partners, helped raise vaccine coverage dramatically.
Among other outcomes, the rise in vaccine coverage around the world has coincided with a drop in child mortality by nearly half what it was 20 years ago.
Gavi has helped strengthen health systems and immunization services in more than 70 countries, giving them more capacity to deliver vaccines and other health services.
By the way, Gavi provides vaccines to prevent 17 infectious diseases, including polio. You’ll be pleased to know that, with Gavi’s help, the incidence of polio has dwindled down to relatively few cases every year. There is good reason to hope that polio’s eradication is on the near horizon.
Our work is far from finished. Our next big challenge is to provide vaccines to what we call “zero-dose children” – that is, the roughly 10 million children per year who receive absolutely no vaccines at all. Some of them live in the hardest-to-reach places on Earth.
Doing that requires extra effort to overcome the stubborn barriers of geography, conflict, gender bias, and poverty to bring vaccines to the places where most zero-dose children are concentrated.
Our work also involves a range of innovative financing mechanisms that help us accelerate and magnify the billions of dollars in development assistance and funding we receive from our generous donors.
As Roxanne pointed out, Gavi is also the primary, day-to-day administrator of the COVAX Facility, an instrument we co-created more than two years ago as the pandemic began to flare. COVAX’s role is to help countries with fewer resources get their fair share of essential COVID-19 vaccines.
To date, COVAX has delivered more than 1.4 billion COVID vaccine doses, mostly to lower-income countries. Still, roughly 2.7 billion people around the world (primarily in lower-income countries) have yet to receive even a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
That tells us that, while many of us may think we are almost done with COVID, COVID is not yet done with us. As long as large numbers of people around the globe remain unvaccinated and unprotected from it, we are all vulnerable.
That is the inalterable rule of infectious diseases – especially at a time when people and the diseases they carry can quickly circle the globe.
For this reason, Gavi continues to fight the COVID pandemic. It’s why we are also focusing on preventing future disease outbreaks that could once again menace the world. Our best hope is to make vaccines available not just to those who can afford them, but to everyone everywhere around the globe. That will give us a solid foundation of global health security.
But we’re not quite there yet, so we continue to press on.
As most of you probably know, ancient Jewish sages once famously declared that we are “not obligated to complete the work [of repairing the world], but neither are [we] free to desist from it.”
At Gavi, we work every day to help the world overcome some of its biggest health challenges. We’ve seen a lot of success, but we also don’t always get things right. Still, we learn, adapt and keep trying. We do it without the expectation of the sort of recognition you are so generously bestowing upon us today. We do it because we know we cannot – as the sages taught – desist from continuing our mission. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.
Once again, thank you so much for this great honor, which I will share with all my Gavi colleagues and our alliance.
 https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations#what-share-of-the-population-has-received-at-least-one-dose-of-the-covid-19-vaccine – It says on this page that, as of April 14, 2022, 64.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. If there are 7.9 billion people in the world, that means 2.8 billion are without any doses.
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