Norway leads on coronavirus vaccines

Profiles of Norwegian Science

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB scanpix
Prime Minister Erna Solberg visits the CEPI headquarters in Oslo. Norway became one of the founding partners of the coalition in 2017.

Agder, Norway

Vaccines save huge numbers of lives every year. A thousand years ago, China witnessed inoculation against smallpox, leading to a centuries-long journey ending in 1980 with the eradication of the disease. Meanwhile, progress continues through vaccines for scourges, including rabies, polio, and measles.

Today, the world expects that a principal way out of the current pandemic is vaccines. Norway has led or been part of various initiatives beginning before COVID-19, showing the importance of science over the long term, not just when a crisis occurs.

In 2017, Norway became one of the founding partners of—and remains one of the largest donors to—the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It exists “to stimulate and accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and enable access to these vaccines for people during outbreaks.” Headquartered in Oslo, CEPI spearheads a triple-pronged approach to vaccines.

First, preparedness recognizes that diseases resurge and re-emerge. Availability of and access to safe and effective vaccines is one way to address outbreaks. Second, in response to outbreaks, CEPI supports new science for and administration of vaccines. Finally, sustainability seeks lasting approaches that will be available to all countries.

These principles are being applied by CEPI to its co-leadership of COVAX “working for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.” COVAX focuses on finding, producing, and distributing vaccines for the current outbreak.

Over 150 countries, approaching two-thirds of the global population, have signed on to COVAX, which hopes to distribute 2 billion doses of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021. By equitably providing tested vaccines as soon as they are available, enough leeway is provided for reopening society and then for ending the pandemic completely.

Norway has donated millions of dollars to COVAX and is closely monitoring progress in developing the vaccines. They undergo extensive, detailed testing and monitoring, which is particularly important for the vaccines using approaches that have not before been used for human beings. Documenting progress, safety, and effectiveness in a systematic and verifiable manner shows why vaccines are approved or not.

The extent of these procedures explains why new vaccines require so much time to be available alongside the advantages of joining together for this work. Amalgamating financing for the vaccine and openly sharing all scientific knowledge for collaboration will help reach a useable vaccine more quickly, which is why COVAX is needed.

Another COVAX co-leader is The Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), which started in 2000 with Norway and five other countries as original contributors. Over the past two decades, GAVI has received more than $2 billion from Norway. In recent years, almost 10% of the budget has been the Norwegian contribution.

GAVI seeks to reduce poverty and support health systems through vaccinating children in the least affluent countries. Their latest calculation concludes that the alliance has stopped over 14 million children from dying from preventable diseases. The first generation to benefit from this initiative is now coming of age and will soon be well-positioned to assume leadership positions in their countries.

Four goals underpin GAVI’s strategy: Equitable vaccine use, improved health systems, sustainable immunization programs, and affordable vaccine markets. The overarching interest is avoiding health crises from emerging.

Prevention and preparation are also hallmarks of the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R). The Research Council of Norway is one of 29 members, while CEPI is one of two observers. GloPID-R aims “to ensure that research capacity and capabilities are in place to support the rapid initiation of scientific research in case of an outbreak.”

The two pillars for achieving this aim are preparedness (including knowledge sharing, training, and horizon scanning) followed by response within which vaccines sit. To encourage collaboration with GloPID-R members for joining data and analyses, the Research Council of Norway has issued various COVID-19–related calls for project proposals, which have so far offered, in total, over $8 million for science. Many projects are now underway. Along with vaccine-related parts of projects from other Research Council of Norway funding sources, they involve Norwegian researchers examining diverse topics such as how other vaccines might protect against COVID-19 and CEPI’s effectiveness.

A tenet of dealing with infectious disease is that prevention is better than cure. It is now too late to prevent a pandemic, so a cure is essential and must involve safe and effective vaccines. Norway continues to support science saving millions of lives.

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This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.