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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  February 26, 2021 12:30am-1:01am GMT

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european union leaders have agreed to take steps to speed up the authorisation, production and distribution of covid— 19 vaccines. european president said member states have to lose their capacity to sequence new variance. capacity to sequence new variance. president biden has held a ceremony to mark the vaccination of fifty million americans against the coronavirus. he said the us was weeks ahead of schedule on the path to immunising one—hundred million people in his first one—hundred days in office. the pop superstar lady gaga offers half a million dollars to get her two french bulldogs back — after a gunman shoots her dog—walker and steals the animals. the handler is being treated in the hospital and is read reportedly recovering well.
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that's it from me. james will be here at the top of the hour. james will be here at the top of the hour. now on bbc news... hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the gulf is opening up between covid vaccination rates in the richest countries and in the poorest, but still, the numbers are shocking. while the uk has given 27% of its population a first dose, many nations have yet to inject a single arm, and this vaccine inequality is rising fast. my guest today is seth berkley, head of gavi, the global vaccine alliance and the key driver of the effort to ensure the whole world gets covid protection. it is a great ambition — is it achievable?
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seth berkley in geneva, welcome to hardtalk. thank you for having me. i'm going to begin, if i may, with some words from the world health organization chief, doctor tedros. he said recently that the me—first approach to vaccine procurement that he sees around the world represents a "catastrophic moral failure." the price of this failure, he says will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries. is that the way you see it? well, i think, of course, we have to understand that every political leader is there
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to try to help their people and protect their people, but what's so unique in a global pandemic is that you're only safe if everyone is safe. and so, despite the fact that some countries are trying to get their populations vaccinated as soon as possible, if we leave large portions of the world with virus circulating with no protection, it's not only ethically wrong, but it also means that it's not playing to trying to dampen down the spread of this infection, keeping these new variants that we're all talking about from spreading. so, this is really about having a global response to a global pandemic. you lay it out very simply, doctor berkley, that collaboration is in all of our collective interests. it sounds simple, why do so many leaders around the world not get it? it's hard to say that.
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i mean, of course when we started seeing the pandemic, we didn't know the spread of it, but very quickly, it spread to more than 180 countries, now today to over 200 countries. so, we can see that this is truly a global problem. of course, there are some leaders who launched approaches to say, "what we have to do is just take care of our people." but others have been thinking about having a shared vision going forward. when we established covax, we normally work with the poorest countries, that's where we focus our effort, but we said in this case, maybe we need to think broader. we didn't know if there would be interest, but when we put that out to countries, we ended up with 190 countries and economies joining the covax facility because they saw the importance of trying to work together. and you'll remember, stephen, when we started, we had no idea whether any of these vaccines were going to work, so it also is a little bit of an insurance policy to say since we have
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the largest portfolio, even if you had a bilateral deal — if those vaccines didn't work — then you have vaccines that might work. well, we'll get into the detail of how this remarkable covax initiative is working injust a moment, but let's stay with the big political picture for a moment longer. as you say, covax has 190 members. now, that includes many members of — if i can put it this way — the rich world, as of course, many, many countries in the poorer and disadvantaged world. ellenjohnson sirleaf, a former leader of liberia, has said that right now, she sees a form of vaccine apartheid where rich countries are procuring more and more vaccine for themselves, ensuring that the poorer countries have less and less access to that selfsame vaccine. are you, as one of the most important voices in global public health, prepared to put your name to a phrase like vaccine apartheid? well, i would if i thought it was going to last,
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but i expect in the next week or two, you will start seeing the flow of large amounts of vaccines to countries across the world. and our hope is in this first quarter to have something like 150 million doses distributed in the first half of the year to cover all healthcare workers, front—line workers in all countries, and then get by the end of 2021 up to something like 20% of the population. in fact, our estimate right now is that we'll substantially exceed that number. so, i think the challenge we are seeing is a slight lag between moving vaccines forward in the developing world, but we will see that happen. are you prepared to call out those countries — some of them members of the covax programme — those countries that have massively overprocured for their own populations? i'm thinking, number one,
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of canada, where they have the remarkable sum of more than 350 million doses on tap already procured and to be delivered for themselves for a population that needs, actually, just a fifth of that number to be fully double dosed. are you prepared to say that that kind of over procurement is notjust selfish, it is deeply damaging to this collective effort you're talking about? well, of course what we have to keep in mind is when the procurement was done. so, when we started, we had no idea whether any of these vaccines were going to work, so the best philosophy was to build a portfolio, and we certainly espouse that philosophy to try and get in as many different types of vaccines in your portfolio. hang on. let me stop you there. you're endorsing a strategy which in effect pushed up the price of vaccines. it made those vaccines much more expensive for your guys
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at covax to procure because the canadians and the uk and the israeli government, they all basically took a policy of paying whatever it took to get their hands on early supplies of the vaccine. that of course pushed the prices up for everybody else as well, and you're saying that's ok. i didn't say that was ok, but let me finish what i started to say, which as we know now that because the vaccines are working and many vaccines now — we have a handful of vaccines that are working — we suspect more will be licensed, there are now 800 million doses that have been procured over the requirements for populations, with another 1.4 billion in options. so, what we're now in the process of discussing with these countries is how we can release those doses to help with this equitable allocation, and canada is one of the leaders in this.
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at the g7 meeting last week, we have france, the uk talk about this as well as the leader of the ec. so, i think we are seeing some adjustments there. 0n the pricing point, there are two different groups that are thinking about pricing. there is not for profit pricing during the pandemic — a number of companies are doing that. there are also those who are tiering the price. those are providing significantly discounted prices for developing countries and for upper middle income countries that will allow those countries to be able to afford those products. let us be clear about one thing. the way the vaccine roll—out is working across the world right now is costing unnecessary lives, is it not? as some countries have overprocured and many, many other countries at the moment have absolutely no access to vaccines whatsoever, it is clear that the collective impact across the world is that more people are dying of covid than would be the case
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if there was a more equitable, measured, equal distribution of vaccine across the world. would you accept that proposition? i would not only accept it but would even give you the statistics behind it. if you took the 2 billion doses that we've agreed to procure, and you distributed them among the 50 highest income countries you would reduce deaths around 31%. you get to a little over 60% of death reduction if spread equitably. so, there is no question that equitable access is the right way, and that's why we're leaning in to make that happen. well, that's an interesting phrase. i was going to put you a thought that was originated from kate elder, the senior vaccines policy adviser from msf. she said the truth is, gavi, the alliance you lead, will never truly call out vaccine nationalism
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because of its biggest donors, like the uk government, are the most powerful members of gavi's board. is that actually true? are you in a sense being immolient, diplomatic, being tactful, because you don't want to upset the rich world countries whom you rely on for funding? you know, you have to have a philosophy here. if you're just somebody who goes around just saying things and don't get anything done, that's one philosophy. our philosophy is to try to deliver. we've delivered more than 822 million doses of vaccines to the developing countries, launched 496 new vaccines and done that working with all the companies and with the donors to support that. we believe that is the best way to make things happen, and we'll continue to follow that philosophy. just one thought. i am not for a second taking for granted the huge difficulties that you face and that everybody faces
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with making this vaccine roll—out work internationally right across the world for the poor as well as the rich, but i am mindful that last year, i think it was in november, angela merkel, the german chancellor, she did say to you, to covax, "you know what, you need to be ordering more vaccines now." she seemed to be concerned that there were not actual practical negotiation to get the millions and millions of doses that you need. those negotiations weren't happening early enough. do you acknowledge you could've been quicker? well, the only way to be quicker would have been to have the money quicker because you can't order doses unless you have money, and i must say the germans have been very generous at the g7 meeting on friday. they announced 920 million new euros to support the covax
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facility, as did the us, as did other countries as well. but we started with zero money and zero deals and we had to build up. today, we have vision towards 2.3 billion doses with another billion doses that are part of our partner organisations, cepi, and we have $6.3 billion of donor funds to allow us to make those deals and purchase those doses. but again, if you want to make something happen, you need the money as well as the deals, because otherwise, companies won't work with you. just another political point that interests me. i'm not picking on canada, but canada is an interesting example. canada, with this overprocurement, if you can put it that way, where they have more than 300 million doses available for their population, they at the same time are demanding it seems a million doses to come from their participation in the covax programme. they are technically entitled to those vaccines, but they clearly don't need them and if they take them, they're depriving them
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from a much poorer country in a poorer part of the world. what do you as the boss of gavi and a key player in covax think of canada actually demanding vaccines from the covax programme? well, the strategy of putting covax together was not just to supply the 92 poorest countries, but also to supply the upper middle income and high income countries. the reason was to get that solidarity to get countries working together and so... with respect, you can have solidarity without the canadians demanding a supply of vaccine they clearly don't need and that others do. well, other countries have chosen to not use their contracts, and ask for doses, at some point, canada may do that or they may donate doses. but it's not ours when they put financing in to purchase doses.
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on that side, they're not taking away from a developing country, because what we've done is gone and purchased vaccine on the behalf of those countries. so, those can then be, if they wanted to, donated or made available for other countries. also, we will keep our side of the bargain and if we purchase vaccines for countries, we will make that available. so far, we've couched this conversation as far as the vaccines developed in the rich west — we talked about astrazeneca, i know you've had deals with pfizer as well. i dare say you've got supplies coming from moderna. as i understand it, you don't have any access to, or at the moment, any real involvement with the vaccines that have come out of russia, sputnik v, and also the vaccine out of china, the sinopharm vaccine. we understand from the data that both are effective, and i'm just wondering are you not missing
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a trick here? if you can get them into your programme as well, that would massively boost your ability to supply the poorest countries? both the chinese—manufactured vaccines, there's sinopharm, sinovac — there's a whole range of vaccines in china. there's sputnik v but there are some other russian vaccines as well. they have gone ahead and submitted interest to our procurement agent, unicef, to provide doses. they've also presented at our independent product group to look at the science behind those vaccines. early on, there was not a lot of transparency on those vaccines. there wasn't data that was available, but since then, data has been published. we are waiting to see about how they are produced to understand whether they can meet the regulatory standards of a stringent regulatory authority or of who. if the answer is they can, and if their data holds up, then of course we would want
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to purchase those vaccines. we are looking out to any vaccine producer that has vaccines that are worth having to diversify the portfolio. i'm just wondering whether the international system, including the emergency use authorisation system within the who, whether it has a bit of bias against certain countries and towards others. the sputnik v producers certainly think so. they released a tweet saying "covax, run by the uk and the us, should be more inclusive and include russian and chinese vaccine. power, biases and narrow minds make us weaker," said the russians. stephen, i did hearyour interview of kirill on this topic, and i have to say that the original data that they released was based upon 70 people in a phase 1—2 study, and they licenced the product. we at that point said, "gee, we'd love to see what the basis is behind that and look at the data."
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we didn't get data. at the end, in my world, data speaks. let me explain why that's important. if there is a bad effect from a vaccine, it won't only poison that vaccine, it will affect all vaccines. what we need is transparency of data, we need to make sure the products are made properly and meet global standards, and i'm not going to apologise for that because if you don't do that, you put at risk the whole enterprise of vaccines, which by the way, has been able to reduce child mortality by 50% in the last 20 years and reduce vaccine—preventable diseases by 70%. because we can get these vaccines out and people trust them. you know a lot about delivering vaccines and persuading people to take them and you know trust is a very important issue here. how damaging is it when you hear politicians, and i'm going to quote several
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from different parts of the world, casting different degrees of doubt on the efficacy and the advisability of taking these various covid vaccines? when you hear politicians voicing scepticism, does that make you angry? it does make me angry, and i have to say that the challenge here is, science has to speak in this case. we've accelerated... it's unbelievable the acceleration that's occurred. i thought it would take 18 months to two years. the previous fastest vaccine was four years for mumps, five years for ebola, which we drove forward aggressively. it took 326 days from the time... the sequence was published to the first vaccine had a licensing from the uk authority. that is extraordinary, so we squeezed the timeline, but the critical thing is we didn't squeeze the safety part of it. what we did is got rid of doing things in parallel rather than... we did things in parallel rather than sequentially, we work to try to make sure
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we could get back the answers as soon as possible but kept the safety going, and that's critical because we need that to make sure things are working in the way they should and the people are comfortable. right, but the truth is people do listen to politicians as well as look at the science, and when for example in europe, emanuel macron, the president of france, questioned the efficacy of the astrazeneca vaccine, particularly for the over 65s and we saw the germans say they wouldn't administer it to the over 65s and then the south african government declared their data suggested it wasn't very effective against the new variant they were finding in south africa and they suspended its use. the net result of all that was that we see in different parts of the world, people are saying they don't want the astrazeneca vaccine. that's one of the workhorse vaccines that you are supplying to many parts of the world. so what are you going to do about it? first of all, the reason people said the vaccine may not work in the elderly is because there wasn't a lot of data early
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on in the elderly. but now, we've seen the data coming out of scotland showing very effective levels, even in the above 80—year—olds. new data is rolling in all the time and we have to look at it. if it turned out that it wasn't good in the elderly, then we should restrict its use. but what it's turning out to say is that actually does work well. you're saying the data evolves, but what you say to those politicians who aren't really talking about the data? they're displayng a mindset which is problematic for people like you. for example, the president of tanzania said vaccinations are dangerous. "if a white man were able to come up with effective vaccination, he would've found a vaccination for aids by now."
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the tanzanian health minister said a couple weeks ago that they have no plans to accept covid—19 vaccines. again, yourjob is to get vaccines to the people, so how do you deal with governments like that? first of all, i spent a long part of my life trying to make an aids vaccine, and we still don't have one and that is absolutely true. science is making progress slowly, but it's really tough. of course, in the challenges in circumstances where you have a leader in a country that doesn't believe in science, it is a real problem. look at what's happened in the us. a land that has been driven in science. it has the largest number of deaths from covid in the world and an infection rate that ran out of control. it's not because americans couldn't manage, it's because they chose to ignore the science in many parts of the world. hang on. this is so interesting. you're saying donald trump, of course you're talking about him, you're basically saying he has the lives of many thousands of americans on his hands, on his conscience? i think what you saw in the us and what you're seeing in many other countries is, as you described it, the politicisation of science
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and health, and that is always a real problem, particularly when you're in a life—threatening epidemic like this. a final thought, because this entire conversation has basically told us that with the best will in the world, and your best efforts, for the next 18 months to two years, the world will be a very unequal place. in the next few months, we're going to see the rich world progressively pushing forward an energetic vaccination programme which will reach many many people over the next six months, while in the poorer world, it will take much, much longer. you're an epidemiologist. what does that patchwork quality of vaccination around this world of ours mean for our collective effort to banish covid? so, first of all, in an ideal world, we would've liked to have vaccines rolled out simultaneously everywhere in the world. you are absolutely right, we didn't get there.
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there'll be couple of months lag before it starts in developing countries, but there will be roll out in those countries. and we have to remember that the risk patterns in those countries are different. the epidemiology of this disease it is such that the elderly are particularly at risk. if you look at japan, 32% of the population is over 65, add in health care workers. you need a minimum of a0 to 50% of the population to be covered to get the high risk groups. go to africa, where you see 3% of the population is over 65, and you see smaller numbers of health care workers. if you can get to 10% or 20% coverage of that population, you will cover the high risk groups. now, nobody is saying we should stop there — with the new variants, with a better understanding of epidemiology, maybe we want to get to 100% of the population, but the first thing to do is to try to get to those high—risk groups and protect them, protect the health
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system, stop the deaths, stop the hospitalisations and the epidemiology is different in different parts of the world. amen to that long—term prospect, stopping it. but for now, we have to stop this interview. seth berkley, it's been a pleasure having you on hardtalk. thank you very much. hello there. there always seems to be something to talk about with the weather across the uk. we started the week with heavy rain, particularly in the far north and west. then wednesday brought the warmest day of the year so far with temperatures
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peaking at 18 celsius. a little bit fresher for thursday, yes, but still highs of 12 or 13 degrees — that's above average for late february. all the warmth, however, has moved its way over to the near continent, and a change of wind direction, a fresher westerly then that fresher feel to thursday's weather, but again, those temperatures are still pretty good for late february. it does however mean that clear skies by day will lead to clear skies through the night, so we are going to see quite a chilly start to our friday morning. at dawn, those temperatures will be hovering around orjust below freezing in a few places. the only exception the far north and west. a weak weather front toppling across high pressure will introduce a little more in the way of cloud, but it's all going to be about this high over the next few days, keeping the story relatively quiet. so, yes, we will pretty much have some sunshine from dawn to dusk across the country with the exception the northwest of the great glen. here, a little bit more of a breeze and maybe a little more in the way of cloud. but in terms of the feel of things, pretty decent temperatures once again —
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ten to 12 celsius the high. as we move out of friday into the start of the weekend, the high pressure is going to firmly establish itself across the country. we'll have a weak weather front toppling across that high again in the far northwest. it will introduce more in the way of cloud and some light, patchy rain across central and southern scotland first thing in the morning, but a very weak affair. and either side of that frontal system, so northwest scotland and central and southern england, there will be decent slices of sunshine to be found and temperatures, well, ten to 12 degrees in the north, 1a in the southeast. maybe just that little bit cooler and disappointing weather cloud will linger. but the high stays with us for the second half of the weekend, and so again, that means a relatively dry, settled story. but plenty of sunshine by day is going to lead to some clear nights, and if you're a gardener or grower, it's worth bearing in mind that we could see a return to some frost and some fog, which may well be slow to lift away. but there will be some dry, sunny weather
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in the forecast not only for the weekend, but as you can see, for much of next week as well. take care.
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this is bbc news. i'm james reynolds with for viewers in the us and around the world. president biden holds his first telephone conversation with king salman of saudi arabia, ahead of the us releasing an intelligence report about the murder of saudi journalist jamal khashoggi. the us president marks america's 50 millionth coronavirus vaccine shot, but some communities remain reluctant to take it. we have a report from new york city. with almost a third of people now vaccinated in the uk, queen elizabeth talks for the first time about having the coronavirus jab. it is obviously difficult for people if they have never had a vaccine. they ought to think about other people than
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