Duke doctor’s latest job: Making sure COVID vaccines reach people around the world
From his suburb of Raleigh, Dr. Krishna Udayakumar is taking a lead in global efforts to rid the world of COVID-19.
Udayakumar, 42, is the founding director of Duke University's Global Health Innovation Center, which tracks the global production and distribution of COVID vaccines.
The center found that the US has already bought or contracted a quarter of the world's vaccine supply, according to an analysis by Axios. And Bloomberg reports that Americans have received more than a third of the vaccinations to date.
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The problem is getting it to poorer countries around the world. Experts say this is not only fair but also good for the economies of countries like the US.
"Where you live shouldn't determine whether you can get access to a COVID-19 vaccine," Udayakumar said on Saturday. “The way to save most lives in the world is to get vaccines fairly, even in low-income countries. Even high-income countries, including the US, will recover stronger and faster economically if we distribute vaccines fairly around the world. "
The World Health Organization agrees that the war on COVID must be global. As long as it lasts, the pandemic will continue to disrupt travel and trade and exacerbate economic inequalities.
"(N) obody wins the race," says the WHO on its website, "until everyone wins."
Udayakumar was born in Bangalore, India and grew up in Virginia. After graduating from the University of Virginia, he received a medical degree and an MBA from Duke. He oversees a team of 30, most of them in North Carolina, but some as far as Kenya.
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There is the ACT Accelerator (Access to COVID-19 Tools), a global response to pandemics, funded by the WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. GAVI, an international vaccine alliance, also started with the help of the Gates Foundation. and COVAX, an international effort funded by wealthier countries to ensure that COVID vaccines are widely and fairly distributed.
The United States and only a handful of countries including Russia are neither signatories nor sponsors of COVAX, according to Duke's Global Health Innovation Center.
However, Congress approved GAVI nearly $ 4 billion in its latest package of $ 2.3 trillion in government funding and coronavirus aid.
President Donald Trump, who has sharply criticized the entire package, had not indicated whether he would sign it until Saturday. If the bill is not signed by Monday, the government will be closed.
Udayakumar also leads Innovations in Healthcare, a not-for-profit organization co-founded by Duke Health, the World Economic Forum, and consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The company operates in more than 90 countries around the world, working with clinics and other providers to find ways to expand access to affordable health care.
Now it is part of a huge network of groups trying to get vaccinations for people all over the world.
"In addition to tracking (distributing vaccines), we are starting to work with different countries and understand readiness," said Udayakumar. Among other things, he and his colleagues are working to not only increase the availability of vaccines and train people to administer them, but also to ensure that people are ready to take them.
"The daunting challenge beyond the money," he said, "is how to get from vaccines in vials to gun strikes."
Udayakumar said it could take two to four years to reach the global vaccination rates that allow the global herd immunity that experts say is necessary to make the spread of the coronavirus unlikely.
"I think having 20% of the population in low- and middle-income countries vaccinated by the end of 2021 is a best case scenario," he said, "and would require many pieces to match."
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