Last week, members of the global health community came together for the second of three virtual events as part of the COVID-19 Vaccines: A Global Experts’ Summit. Representatives from organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), UNICEF and Baylor’s School of Tropical Medicine explored the challenges around the COVID-19 vaccine, the new variants, and comprehensive strategies to reach the most underserved populations.
“Although we have made tremendous progress in our fight against COVID-19, there are still people, vulnerable people, who are not yet vaccinated,” said Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work.
This event was supported by Florida International University’s Office of the President, in collaboration with the Global Health Consortium at Stempel College, in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization and the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.
“FIU is proud to collaborate with the global public health community by providing technical assistance and promoting continued education initiatives such as this Summit,” said Dr. Carlos Espinal, Director of the Global Health Consortium at Stempel College, and one of the Summit’s key scientific leaders and organizers.
If you missed the event, take a look at the video recordings here. If you are short on time, fear not. The global health team at Stempel College pulled their key takeaways to bring you up to speed on the critical topics discussed this past Friday. Read them below.
Less than 1% of over 2.7 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered to date have been used in low-income countries.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at WHO Health Emergencies program in Geneva, addressed the past and future of COVID-19, sharing WHO’s global strategy, which focuses on suppressing transmission, protecting the vulnerable and saving lives. Dr. Van Kerkhove reflected that, to date, vaccination distribution worldwide is grotesquely inequitable. For example, less than 1% of the over 2.7 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered to date have been used in low-income countries. She shared several strategies that are essential for the fight against COVID-19, including testing, providing clinical care to reduce mortality, implementing control measures, and developing and rolling out safe, effective vaccines. Her message was clear: inequities are prolonging the impact and duration of the pandemic, and the virus will continue to evolve while we keep allowing its spread. Watch her presentation here.
“Public immunity demands public trust.”
Dr. Angus Thomson, the senior social scientist of Demand for Immunization at UNICEF France, gave a remarkable presentation on combatting vaccine misinformation. He stressed that “public immunity demands public trust” and that misinformation is potentially influencing people’s decisions about vaccination. Dr. Thomson reflected on the value of social listening to understand people’s perceptions and engage them in getting immunized. Engagement strategies demand amplifying trusted voices and filling in information gaps with reliable and accurate content. He encouraged participants to learn more through the Vaccine Misinformation Management Field Guide (In Spanish here). Watch his presentation here.
Numerous factors led to the surge in COVID-19 cases in India.
Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, Executive Director of the South Asian Center for Non-Communicable Diseases Research in Bangladesh, illustrated how India had gone from a steady 2020 to a desperate situation in 2021. Despite leading the vaccine-production infrastructure equivalent to almost 70% of the world’s vaccines, by March 2021, India had exported more vaccines than had been administered in the country. Insufficient vaccine supply, inadequate policies, unsafe vaccination centers and major communication issues are likely the drivers for the potential looming third wave now threatening the country. Watch his presentation here.
Delta variant could start becoming dominant among unvaccinated populations.
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, tackled the public health challenges of today and beyond the pandemic. He spoke about the highly contagious delta variant and the negative impact it could have among unvaccinated populations. “My worry is now that as the world is still largely unvaccinated, that’s what we are going to see. Anyone who has so far escaped infection or vaccination is now going to be infected with this delta variant,” he warned. “I think it’s at that level of transmission.” Dr. Hotez stressed the need to confront anti-vaccination aggression stating that high-level action against these destructive forces is essential to defeating the virus. Watch his presentation here.
There are still many unknowns around the COVID-19 vaccine.
A dynamic conversation among panel members followed Dr. Hotez’s presentation. The panel was moderated by Dr. Eneida Roldan, CEO of the FIU Health Care Network, and included Dr. Cuauhtémoc Ruiz-Matus, chief of the Comprehensive Family Immunization Unit at PAHO/WHO and Dr. Alfonso J. Rodríguez-Morales, professor and senior researcher at the College of Medicine in Fundación Universitaria Autónoma de las Américas in Pereira, Colombia. Hot topics were explored, such as if people should be mixing vaccines and if there is a need for a third vaccine dose in light of the new variants. The experts came to a consensus that there is a need for more evidence before recommendations are shared. Watch the discussion here.
English and Spanish video recordings of all presentations and panel discussions are available here. The third and final virtual event as part of the COVID-19 Vaccines: A Global Experts’ Summit will take place on September 24, 2021.