Seth Berkley, MD is the CEO of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a leading global health organization racing against the clock to get poorer countries vaccinated against COVID-19 while the delta variant rages. GAVI, along with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization, is leading COVAX, a partnership dedicated to providing free COVID-19 vaccines to at least 20 percent of the population in the world’s 92 poorest countries by the end of 2021. Berkley will highlight the challenges around supply, delivery, vaccine hesitancy and poor health infrastructure in recipient countries. Join Frances Stead Sellers, senior writer on the Americas desk for the conversation.

Highlights

Seth Berkley, MD says current vaccines have been effective at preventing severe disease and death from newer strains of covid-19 but that may not continue with emerging variants. “There are variants of interest and there are some scary variants that keep appearing, but we don’t yet understand. There’s a C.1.2 that just appeared in South Africa that may have resistance… There’s a new Mu variant… Up until now, all of the variants… have been able to be protected against severe disease and death by the existing vaccines, but that may not continue.” (Washington Post Live)
Seth Berkley, MD said vaccine hesitancy has historically been more prevalent in developed countries where “they don’t see people dying,” but social media has spread politicized misinformation around the globe. “We tend to have it more in developed countries because developed countries, they’re not familiar with the diseases, they don’t see people dying, whereas in developing countries they do… In this case, it’s been quite different because it’s been very politicized and there’s been a lot of misinformation that has occurred as a result of the politicization… That’s a big problem because… it’s one world now because of social media, so if misinformation occurs it spreads around the world literally at the speed of light." (Washington Post Live)
When the highly contagious variant struck India, it disrupted vaccine supply chains and has made it difficult for COVAX to reach its vaccine distribution goals. “When the delta variant appeared in India and the situation got severe, India stopped exports and that meant we’re now 300 million doses short of where we should be.” (Washington Post Live)
Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, said COVAX will likely reach its 2021 goal of distributing 2 billion doses of vaccine globally by by early 2022. “It turns out that we will probably not quite get there by the end of 2021. It may slip a little bit into January and February, but I think we’re on track broadly… But the challenge is that there have been many barriers put in place, export bans, vaccine nationalism… and it has made it very, very difficult.” (Washington Post Live)
“The right thing to do would have been to vaccinate every healthcare worker in the world, so any country anywhere is prepared to take care of the pandemic. And then move to the people at most risk of dying… Of course, the world didn’t work that way, and countries made a choice to get their vaccination up… The debate about boosters is complicated. So first of all, when medically necessary like… if you’re immunosuppressed and you don’t… have enough immune response to the vaccine, you need a booster, you should get it right away…. The question I think on everybody’s mind is do we continue to use vaccines to block [symptomatic infection], while people at high risk and healthcare workers haven’t been vaccinated, or do we now complete that primary goal of getting vaccines out to the highest risk and then continue the global movement of vaccines.” (Washington Post Live)

Seth Berkley

Provided by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

A medical doctor and infectious disease epidemiologist, Dr Seth Berkley joined Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance as its CEO in August 2011, spearheading its mission to save lives and protect people’s health by increasing equitable and sustainable use of vaccines.

Since its inception in 2000, Gavi has helped to immunise a whole generation – over 822 million children – and prevented more than 14 million deaths, helping to halve childhood mortality in 73 lower-income countries. Under Dr Berkley’s leadership, Gavi received the 2019 Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award for providing sustained access to childhood vaccines in the world’s poorest countries, as well as the Princess of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 2020. In June 2020, Dr Berkley led Gavi to its third replenishment, raising US$ 8.8 billion and exceeding the ask of at least US$ 7.4 billion in a Summit that saw the participation of 42 heads of state. The ambitious goals for Gavi’s 2021–2025 strategic period are to reach 300 million more children, preventing an additional 7–8 million deaths and contributing to a further US$ 80–100 billion in economic benefits. In 2021, Dr Berkley was ranked by Fortune as number 14 of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.

Prior to Gavi, in 1996, Dr Berkley founded the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the first vaccine product development public-private sector partnership, where he served as President and CEO for 15 years. Under his leadership, IAVI created a virtual vaccine product development effort involving scientists from low-income countries, industry and academia – developing and testing HIV vaccines around the world. He also oversaw a global advocacy programme that ensured HIV vaccines received prominent attention in the media and in forums such as the G8, the European Union and the United Nations.

Previously, Dr Berkley served as an officer of the Health Sciences Division at The Rockefeller Foundation. He has worked for the Center for Infectious Diseases of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; and the Carter Center, where he was assigned as an epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health in Uganda. Dr Berkley played a key role in Uganda’s first national HIV sero-survey and helped develop its national AIDS Control Program.

He has been featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine; recognised by TIME magazine as one of “The TIME 100 – The World’s Most Influential People”; and named by WIRED magazine as among “The WIRED 25 – a salute to dreamers, inventors, mavericks, leaders.” His TED talks have been viewed by more than 2.4 million people, and he has published hundreds of articles and opinion pieces.

He has consulted or worked in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Dr Berkley sits on a number of international steering committees and corporate and not-for-profit boards, including those of Gilead Sciences and the New York Academy of Sciences, and is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Geneva’s Institute of Global Health in the Faculty of Medicine.

Dr Berkley received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Brown University and trained in internal medicine at Harvard University. In 2013, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for services to global public health and advancing the right to health care for all. In 2021, Dr Berkley received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Makerere University School of Public Health in Uganda.

Moderated by Frances Stead Sellers

Frances Stead Sellers joined the National staff in 2016 to cover the presidential campaign. Sellers became a senior writer based in the Sunday Magazine in 2014 and spent two years before that as the editor of Style, with a focus on profiles, personalities, arts and ideas. She ran the newsroom’s health, science and environmental coverage during the battle over health care and the Gulf oil spill, and she edited a series of stories about military medical care that was a Pulitzer finalist. She has also been deputy editor of Outlook. Sellers came to The Washington Post from Civilization, the bimonthly magazine of the Library of Congress, which she helped launch in 1994 and which won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 1996.