Geneva | Tue, January 19, 2021 | 08:22 pm
The world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” if rich countries hog Covid-19 vaccine doses while the poorest suffer, the head of the WHO said Monday. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization condemned the “me-first” mindset of wealthy nations and also blasted vaccine manufacturers for seeking regulatory approval in rich countries rather than sending their data to the WHO for global use of green-light vaccines.
Speaking at the opening of a WHO Executive Board meeting in Geneva, he said that the guarantee of equal access to coronavirus vaccines worldwide was now at serious risk. Tedros said that in at least 49 higher-income countries, 39 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been provided to date.
Meanwhile, he said, “just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country. Not 25 million; not 25,000; just 25,” “I need to be blunt. The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure — and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.”
He said they prioritized their own deals with producers, driving up prices and trying to jump the queue, even as some countries pronounced reassuring words on equitable access. He said 44 such deals were reached in 2020 and this year at least 12 have already been signed. “The situation is compounded by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO,” Tedros said.
This me-first strategy not only leaves the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world at risk, it is also self-defeating. “Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, prolong our pain, the constraints necessary to contain it, and human and economic suffering.” The WHO only approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use validation, and Tedros urged other manufacturers to.
Covax, the WHO co-led effort to procure and distribute globally pooled vaccines, has reached agreements with five producers for two billion doses of vaccines. The objective is to secure vaccines for 20% of the population in each participating country by the end of the year, with funding covered by the 92 economies with lower and lower middle incomes. “We aim to start deliveries in February,” Tedros said.
He said the recent emergence of rapidly spreading variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus makes it even more important to rapidly and equitably roll out vaccines. “Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need — literally and figuratively,” he said. “There will be enough vaccine for everyone,” insisted Tedros. “But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”
Since the outbreak emerged in China in late 2019, the novel coronavirus has killed more than two million people. In an undetermined species of bat, the pathogen is thought to have originated. The pandemic showed that the health of humans, animals and the planet were intertwined, Tedros said.
“More than 70 percent of emerging diseases discovered in recent years are linked to animal-to-human transmission,” he said. “One year into the greatest crisis of our time, there is no question that we still face unprecedented danger.”