Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, Sunhak Peace Prize Foundation members, my colleague and fellow laureate Sarah Gilbert, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honor and privilege to receive this prize on behalf of the Gavi Alliance. I am very, very sorry to not be able to join you in person, but my duties required me to stay here in Geneva.
Making the world better for future generations is a shared goal and I’d like to commend Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, for your tireless work turning this ambition into a reality. Your creation of this prestigious award has done so much to shine a light on those working to improve the world we live in. I thank you for your commitment to bettering humanity. Of course, for us at the Vaccine Alliance, making the world better means improving the health of hundreds of millions of the world’s children. It means protecting them, and more recently, their parents against deadly diseases through vaccination. It means helping to ensure everybody, no matter where they’re born, has an equal chance at a healthy future.
It is through this work improving health equitably across the world that we can help foster stable, prosperous, and peaceful societies. Good health is the bedrock on which prosperity can be built. A child free from diseases is more likely to go to school. Their parents are less likely to take time off work to care for them through illness. Their finances are less likely to be burdened by hospital or clinic fees. A healthier society is a wealthier society and from this prosperity comes stability and peace. Time and time again, history shows us that broken economies lead to nationalism, to crisis and to conflict. Of course, right now we’re seeing this interplay between health economics and stability play out in real-time around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the global economy trillions of dollars on top of millions of lives lost and the global political landscape has never looked more fragile. We have seen countries retreat into vaccine nationalism, instituting export bans, and buying up many more COVID-19 vaccine doses than they need for their populations in their time of short supply.
We are at a crossroads. One path, the path of nationalism and insularity, could lead us to increased insecurity and the continued spread and evolution of COVID-19. The other path available to us is that of shared partnership. We can defeat this global pandemic and end this economic toll but only by working together. The spirit of partnership and multilateralism embodied by the Sunhak Peace Prize Foundation and the distinguished laureates up until now has also been embodied by Gavi since its creation in 2000. We are an alliance, a partnership encompassing international organizations like the WHO and UNICEF, civil society, vaccine manufacturers, donor governments, and the governments of the countries we exist to serve.
Each plays an instrumental role in the work we do. This partnership has achieved incredible results. Our alliance now helps immunize nearly half the world’s children against diseases from measles to diphtheria, pneumonia to polio. Over the past two decades, we’ve immunized more than 900 million additional children reducing vaccine-preventable diseases by 70%, contributing to more than a 50% reduction in child mortality in the lower-income countries we serve.
However, COVID-19 has put this progress at risk. 2020 saw vaccine rates dropped in lower-income countries for the first time in decades due to fear and lockdowns as well as the fact that health systems were forced to turn their focus and attention to the pandemic. Our alliance is working hard with countries to get routine immunization back on track.
But of course, the best way to reduce the impact of the pandemic is to bring it to an end. To help do this, we have brought the decades of experience to bear on the creation of a multilateral solution to this pandemic alongside WHO, CEPI and UNICEF. We’ve created a true world first in COVAX. For the first time, we have a platform through which the world can come together to ensure fair, equitable access to vaccines for every country and every population during a pandemic. This is not just the morally just thing to do. It is also in everybody’s self-interest as the best route out of the pandemic. The longer we leave large portions of the global population unvaccinated, the more chance this disease has to mutate and evolve. Global equitable vaccination remains our best hope in preventing this.
As a multilateral solution to a global crisis, COVAX works. In the 12 months since our first doses were administered, we’ve delivered over a billion doses of WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines around the world. 90% of these doses went to lower-income countries at no cost to them. Thanks to an incredible effort from our COVAX partners, governments and army of vaccinators and health workers around the world, COVAX vaccines are now reaching people in every corner of the world, from the Sahara to the peaks of the Himalayas.
Of course, the pandemic is far from over. 2022 will be another challenging year, but we’ve proved that our multilateral solutions to this pandemic can work. With further support, we can fulfill COVAX’s mission to end vaccine inequality and end the pain and suffering that COVID has brought to so many of us.
I’d like to also take this opportunity to thank the Republic of Korea, who has been supporting Gavi’s core mission since 2010 and last year made a historic $200 million contribution to COVAX, helping us procure vaccines for countries most in need. We are deeply grateful for this support. I accept this prize as just one representative of an alliance that encompasses not just the Gavi secretary in Geneva, but also hundreds of thousands of partners, immunization managers, and health workers across the world, working day and night to ensure vaccines reach the vulnerable and helping to forge a better, healthier, more prosperous future for all of us. On behalf of all of us at the Vaccine Alliance, I thank you.