Dr. Seth Berkley

WGL 2021-Seth Berkley
Courtesy of Seth Berkley
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  • Affiliation
    Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

“We are only safe if we are all safe,” says Dr. Seth Berkley, an American epidemiologist who has spent the past decade leading Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance—a brilliantly run collaborative effort that has saved millions of children from dying of preventable diseases. From 2000 through 2019, Gavi and its partners ensured that more than 822 million children received routine immunizations against age-old diseases such as diphtheria, rotavirus, meningitis, measles, and more. In late 2019, when Ebola re-emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was GAVI that assured there would be enough doses of a novel vaccine to protect those at risk. That was only because Berkley and his team had helped create a market for the vaccine years in advance, ensuring that 300,000 doses of the experimental inoculation were available in the event of further outbreaks. (Now that there is a licensed product, it is being stockpiled for future use.) And now, as COVID-19 continues its global assault—finding especially vulnerable quarry in some of the poorest places on earth—it is once again Gavi that is working tirelessly to contain it. At the helm since 2011 has been Berkley, who is also the world’s most visible and eloquent champion for the COVAX Facility, an effort led jointly by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Unicef, and the World Health Organization, to bring vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus to every corner of the planet, not just the wealthy ones. As of mid-May, the COVAX partnership had already delivered 59 million vaccines to more than 120 countries, and it has raised nearly $7 billion so far to secure some 2 billion doses. So, you might ask if Berkley is happy with the progress? The answer, as he told the audience at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in late April, is absolutely not. “With just 0.2% of those in low-income countries receiving doses, we’re nowhere near to equitably covering even the most high-risk individuals,” he said. “Despite short-term supply issues, there are enough vaccines to begin to go around. It’s just they’re not going around.” As powerful as humanitarian instincts can be as a call to action, though, Berkley has been at this long enough to understand that an often-stronger motivation—particularly for the government officials who can open the coffers—is economic. So the epidemiologist knows when to put on his business hat too. “The International Monetary Fund has estimated the pandemic will cost the global economy $28 trillion in lost output by 2025,” he says. “Think of what that figure will be if it’s prolonged.”