The head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, while addressing the agency’s Executive Board in Geneva mentioned that “even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.”
He warned that the world is on the edge of a “catastrophic moral failure and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries”.
“It’s not right that younger healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries
“Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong
“This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption”, he stated.
COVAX is a global vaccine-sharing mechanism established in April last year whose promise is to continue ensuring that all countries will have access to any COVID-19 vaccines. It has secured two billion doses so far, with a billion more in the pipeline, and deliveries should begin in February.
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The WHO director-general also criticized some manufacturers for prioritizing getting their vaccines approved in wealthy countries, where they could make greater profits, over submitting their dossiers to the WHO for prequalification and speeding up the process of having the vaccines approved for inclusion in the COVAX portfolio.
“Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating,” said Tedros.
The WHO Chief the urged countries to “work together in solidarity” and avoid making similar mistakes as they did during the HIV pandemic where wealthier countries were accused of hoarding treatments for years.
Tedros also called for vaccine producers to provide WHO with full data for regulatory review in real-time, to accelerate approvals, and he urged countries to only use vaccines that have met international safety standards, and to accelerate readiness for their deployment.
He appealed that countries should change the rules of the game and be transparent in any bilateral contracts between countries and COVAX, including on volumes, pricing and delivery dates.
“We call on these countries to give much greater priority to COVAX’s place in the queue, and to share their own doses with COVAX, especially once they have vaccinated their own health workers and older populations so that other countries can do the same
“My challenge to all Member States is to ensure that by the time World Health Day arrives on the 7th of April, COVID-19 vaccines are being administered in every country, as a symbol of hope for overcoming both the pandemic and the inequalities that lie at the root of so many global health challenges”, he said, adding, “I hope this will be realized.”