At the opening of WHO’s Executive Board meeting this week, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General (above), said prospects for equitable vaccine distribution are at ‘serious risk’, and that the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” over Covid-19 vaccine distribution – just as the vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX aims to start distributing inoculations to LMIC next month. He urged all countries and manufacturers to share doses more fairly across countries.
COVAX is the WHO-led initiative that aims to provide Covid-19 vaccines to poor countries. He noted, however, that 44 bilateral deals were signed last year and at least 12 have already been signed this year. “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 said, “a ‘me-first approach’ that would leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk. Earlier this month he called for bilateral deals to stop.
He cited as an example of the huge inequality that more than 39 million doses of vaccine have been administered in 49 higher-income countries whereas just 25 doses had been given in one poor country, which he did not name.
A report released in early December by the People’s Vaccine Alliance warned that as much as 90 percent of the population in dozens of poorer countries will miss out on the coronavirus vaccine. In its report, the Alliance said rich countries have hoarded enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over, leaving some 67 poor countries with only enough to vaccinate one in 10 people. While governments of course want to take care of their own populations, they need to recognise that fairer distribution will reduce the international spread better and better reduce the extent of disease.
A video by AlJazeera showing Dr Tedros speaking also includes an interview with Helen Rees from WITS University in South Africa, who is also on the WHO SAGE, and Anna Marriott from Oxfam UK. It reports that the cost of supplying low-income countries with vaccine has been estimated at $25 billion. COVAX wants to raise $7 billion this year on top of the $2.4 billion that has already been pledged (not provided) to date. Helen Rees reports that false information about the pandemic and vaccines is spreading on social media, and how to counter this and build trust in science and scientific experts has to be addressed. Anna Marriott raises important questions about the need for more pharmaceutical company transparency and how to build capacity for producing more vaccine than is currently feasible.
SOURCES: AlJazeera, including photo, 18 January 2021 ; AlJazeera VIDEO: Will poorer nations miss out on Covid-19 vaccine, 13 January 2021