Prof McConkey said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the ‘criticality of equitable vaccine availability’ and that there were inequalities in vaccine distribution and uptake.

Prof Sam McConkey of the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has been appointed the head of the European Vaccine Initiative, which aims to tackle infectious diseases through affordable vaccines.

The initiative supports global efforts to develop effective vaccines, particularly against diseases that disproportionately affect low- and middle-income countries. It aims to achieve this goal by building partnerships among academia, pharma companies, policy makers, donors and other product-development partnerships.

Members of the initiative include the RCSI, the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in the Netherlands, Denmark’s Heidelberg University, the Jenner Vaccine Foundation in the UK and the Pasteur Institute in France.

McConkey, who is head of the RCSI Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine, is also a consultant in general medicine, tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. He has previously served as a European Vaccine Initiative board member and a member of its scientific advisory committee.

Speaking on his appointment, McConkey said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the “criticality of equitable vaccine availability” and that it brought conversations about how vaccines work “into the mainstream”.

“There is much to learn from the speed with which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed and the research and collaboration underpinning their success,” McConkey said. “The great disappointment of that time was, however, the global inequalities in vaccine distribution and uptake.

“We have an opportunity and a responsibility to build on this greater public awareness and the learnings in order to tackle the prevailing inequalities in vaccine access.”

RCSI vice-chancellor Prof Cathal Kelly said equitable access to vaccine protection needs to be “a key imperative” for everyone involved in healthcare policy, research and provision.

“We are proud to be members of the European Vaccine Initiative and we wish Prof McConkey every success as he begins his term as chair,” Kelly said.

Last year, RCSI researchers developed insights into how the human body clock influences our immune response to vaccines. The findings could help improve the design and timing of vaccines in the future to boost their effectiveness.

Leigh Mc Gowran

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