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By next summer we'll have enough vaccines to vaccinate the world: Eli Lilly CEO

In this article:
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Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks joins 'Influencers with Andy Serwer' to discuss progress in the fight against COVID-19.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: He said recently that the Biden administration's support for an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines was quote, "an unfortunate turn of events," unquote. So the administration did the wrong thing here?

DAVID RICKS: Yes, they did. I mean, I think if the, when I say, I guess I say that, thinking about the goal of vaccinating the world, if the goal is to vaccinate the world, I believe this is a counterproductive move. Of course, in a world where each country would believe they need to have their own version of a vaccine for their people, this would kind of make sense. But we don't need to do that. And I think in pursuing that pathway, it will take maybe a decade or more.

Rather, what we should do, is make as much of the vaccines we have in the places where we can make them. When we start a new production facility for a complex product like RNA vaccine is, or in our case, a monoclonal antibody, it takes about four years to build, staff, train, and validate that factory. So the idea that giving away the so-called recipes from Moderna and Pfizer would somehow solve this pandemic is mythology. There are no RNA production facilities in India, South Africa or other countries that have pursued this waiver. They don't exist. They have to be built from whole cloth. Staffed, trained, et cetera.

And on top of that, I think the know-how for this new technology is limited. It's really American and German biotechnology inventions. That's where the expertise lies. A much better path would be to say let's do two things. Let's free up supply chains in a way that the RNA vaccine makers and other vaccines, because we have adenovirus from AstraZeneca and J&J, could really have a clear path, sort of like the lane we drive in when we have more than two passengers in our car.

We can fly down the highway with maximum availability of resources in the plants that are already making those. That still needs some help. We have had, we've read about AstraZeneca running out of supplies, et cetera. So that's step one. And governments can coordinate across each other to make that happen, because their supply chain is global. It doesn't all sit in one country or another.

The second thing to do is then create an appointment schedule by country. I think a lot of the anxiety here has to do with the fact that leaders in some of these countries are unsure if they'll be left on the sidelines or they'll get their chance to vaccinate their people. Of course, the wealthy countries went up and bought up most of the supply that was early.

But by my calculations, there'll be something between 10 and 12 billion doses in 2022, which is more than enough to vaccinate the adult world. And the inefficiency of just letting the market figure that out is kind of what we're suffering from. What'd be better, if the US took a leadership role to say, OK, based on risk factors of outbreaks and infection, as well as demographics like age, let's allocate these extra vaccines to the best places to allocate them. So older, high risk countries get them first. And those politicians can rest at ease that their appointment is coming. They'll know when they exit the pandemic.

ANDY SERWER: David, was there any talk of the waiver also applying to therapeutics?

DAVID RICKS: There was talk, and there was an ask there. Fortunately, the US didn't support that. And I should say fortunately both Angela Merkel and EU in total are opposing this waiver. And I think they're doing it for the reasons I just mentioned. They're unconvinced that it will affect the trajectory of the pandemic, as I am. And they believe that the better way is to actually just make more in the plants we already have running, which is again, what I'm advocating for.

ANDY SERWER: And just last quick follow-up on the waiver, does it look like it's going to actually ever happen then?

DAVID RICKS: I mean, that's another matter, right? Is that, and I think Dr. Fauci and others comment on this, that the process through the World Trade Organization to get a waiver is a consensus-driven process at the council of the WTO, which is slow, because anything that is a three letter agency in Geneva is slow by definition, and requires a broad consensus. Already European unions opposing it. So that tells you this is not a weeks or months thing, it's going to be more.

ANDY SERWER: Right. And the longer it takes, the less need perhaps there is for it.

DAVID RICKS: By next summer, we'll have enough vaccines to vaccinate the world anyway. Why don't we just focus on that? It just seems, it just seems self-defeating.