Global vaccine alliance appoints AIDS vaccine champ as new CEO

Seth Berkley

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, GAVI, has selected Seth Berkley to take over as CEO of the 10-year-old initiative aimed at expanding access to children’s vaccines worldwide.

Berkley, long one of the leading advocates of the search for an AIDS vaccine, inherits both an operation that has been one of the most successful, life-saving efforts ever undertaken in global health and a massive funding shortfall.

His predecessor, Julian Lob-Levyt, announced his resignation after the board learned of the funding shortfall and had concerns about his financial management (and, to some extent, his management style as well. A bit autocratic). Lob-Levyt left GAVI to join a small development management firm called DAI.

The vaccination initiative that Berkley now takes on is the largest single project ever funded by the Gates Foundation, which launched it in 2000. Here’s a story of GAVI’s early days, which I wrote based on a trip to Africa while at the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Children’s vaccine projects, in general, seldom grab the headlines as much as a story about malaria, maternal health (lately) or the search for an AIDS vaccine. They’re kind of boring.

But that’s precisely what amazed me so much when the Gates Foundation decided to make expanding children’s vaccines its biggest effort in global health. If Bill Gates had been intending to use philanthropy merely as some public relations strategy, he would have picked something more high-profile, sexier as a cause celebre.

Bill and Melinda Gates continue to be strong supporters, financially and as public advocates, for vaccination.

As a result of GAVI, more than 5 million children are alive today who would have died from infectious disease over the last decade. Even the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria can’t claim those kind of numbers of lives saved.

But GAVI is in trouble. It needs an additional $3.7 billion to continue its work and to expand children’s access to new vaccines against two big killers, pneumonia and rotavirus.

Given the global financial situation, donors are pretty tight-fisted. Berkley, in an interview with Science magazine’s Jon Cohen, knows that will be job one. Berkley says:

I’ve spent much of my current job raising money. One of the critical things is getting governments to prioritize immunizations as the most cost effective programs. You should fund your immunization program before anything else.

Here are six ideas and questions for Berkley in his new job, from Amanda Glassman at the Center for Global Development, and also five priorities, as suggested by vaccine expert Orin Levine writing for Huffpo.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.