Tony Blair calls for digital libraries to track vaccines - 'You need the data, you need to know'

Tony Blair: 'You need the data: you need to know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t been.' (World Economic Forum)
Tony Blair: 'You need the data: you need to know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t been.' (World Economic Forum)

Tony Blair has called for digital libraries that can record the vaccination status of people around the world in future pandemics.

In a World Economic Forum discussion on containing the next major viral disease outbreak, the former prime minister said all countries need “proper digital infrastructure” to identify who has received vaccines.

The talk was based on the principle that safe vaccines created within 100 days of an outbreak can protect countries from the economic and societal damage brought about by lockdowns imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Blair said: “In the end, you need the data: you need to know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t been.

“Some of the vaccines that will come down the line, there will be multiple shots. So [for vaccines] you’ve got to have - for reasons to do with healthcare more generally but certainly for pandemics - a proper digital infrastructure and most countries don’t have that.”

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Blair said “digitisation in healthcare is one of the great game changers” and that “we should be helping countries to develop a national digital infrastructure which they will need with these new vaccines”.

Blair has long called for the deployment of tech to record vaccine statuses worldwide. In a 2021 article on “how to vaccinate the whole world”, Blair said “systematisation of all the information involved in the vaccine rollout will provide vital data” and “allow governments to focus accurately [on] the deployment of vaccines and track progress”.

In the World Economic Forum panel, Blair also discussed "vaccine inequity", which has seen much higher vaccination rates in rich countries.

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The most recent World Health Organization figures, as shown on the United Nations Development Programme Data Futures Platform, show that as of Wednesday, 73% of people in high-income countries had been vaccinated for COVID - compared to 30% in low-income countries.

Blair referred to Africa, in which many countries have struggled with the vaccine rollout, saying: “How do you make sure you get the right scientific cooperation, and the cooperation between the regulatory authorities, so in the future you can clear things much faster, for example on the continent of Africa?

“If we had an equivalent to the European Medicines Agency - an African Medicines Agency - that allowed you to have one system, one standard, [it] would hugely change the way vaccines are introduced in Africa.”

Africa, meanwhile, only produces 0.1% of the global supply of vaccines, and Blair added: “I think this issue of manufacturing, a lot of countries learned that if they didn’t have some recourse to manufacturing sovereignty… then they were at a disadvantage.”