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Alliance Discussion With Dr. Stephen Morrison: Global Health R&D

In an alliance discussion on September 13, Stephen Morrison, PhD, Senior Vice President and Director, Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, discussed global health policy and R&D following the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of Dr. Morrison’s insights: 

On opinion shifts about why we should be invested in global health: 

“There’s been a shift towards seeing [global health] as directly tied to U.S. national interests… [During the HIV pandemic], people began to argue that this was an ethical and moral and humanitarian emergency. It was an emergency that threatened prosperity and the stability of communities and families, and it was something that really had a security dimension to it because it was going to have destabilizing consequences…” 

On Operation Warp Speed and vaccine R&D:  

“That was another dramatic illustration in saying ‘Look, in order to get to a solution, we need to think beyond our normal standards of what is required. A vaccine is a strategically important aspect of the solution to this; we need high capital, we need the Department of Defense capacities brought in, we need the authorities under the Defense Production Act in order to shape the industrial response, and we need to move big and make bold bets that are smart and hope for the best.’ That was a transformative moment [in R&D].” 

On the impact of the pandemic: 

“I think the compound impacts of this pandemic … [have] exhausted us. [The pandemic has] depleted us, it’s worn down our capacities, it’s frayed many institutions, and it’s given rise to a dangerous politicization and a dangerous assault upon the credibility and integrity of our scientific community, our public health community, and the like.” 

On competing priorities: 

“Now we also have all these other [issues] of food insecurity, runaway debt, climate change, the war in Ukraine, and the like, and we face the challenge of how we are going to keep a focus on these matters in conjunction with our response [to the pandemic]… Public health, global health, and global health security are not free-standing independent elements — they have to be seen as part of a broader picture of countries making priority choices.”  

On transitioning away from pandemic emergency funding: 

“We’re struggling right now. We’re out of the emergency phase, we’re out of the big supplementals, [and we] feel the threat has subsided. Yet, people who know this field and the people who are the architects [of the American Pandemic Plan] are saying, ‘Look, we need the next generation of vaccines. We need vaccines that are more durable, that stop infection, [and] that treat multiple variants simultaneously.’ That’s going to be hard, scientifically. It’s going to require another major mobilization with major resourcing over multiple years and the like, but it’s a more difficult environment to make that case and so we can’t give up.” 

Watch the full presentation.