WHO chief urges rich nations not to undermine COVAX scheme

Wealthy countries’ deals with vaccine manufacturers led to reduction in amount of vaccines allocated to COVAX, WHO head says.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said rich countries need to ensure before they seek more vaccines that their requests do not undermine COVAX deals [File: Christopher Black/World Health Organization/Handout via Reuters]

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has pleaded with rich countries to check before ordering additional COVID-19 vaccine shots for themselves whether that undermines efforts to get vaccine shots to poorer nations.

Wealthy nations have snapped up several billion vaccine doses and some countries have ordered enough shots to vaccinate their populations more than once, while some countries in the developing world have little or none.

A successful global vaccination campaign is considered to be key to stemming the pandemic.

European nations have given financial support to the UN-backed COVAX scheme, which aims to get vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people and are considering sharing some of their own doses – though they have not specified when.

On Friday, leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powers said they would accelerate global vaccine development and deployment and support “affordable and equitable access to vaccines” and treatments for COVID-19.

They cited a collective $7.5bn from the G7 to UN-backed efforts.

Vaccine supply troubles

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus thanked the G7 countries for their “significant” pledges.

But he said after talks on Monday with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier that “even if you have the money, if you cannot use the money to buy vaccines … having the money doesn’t mean anything”.

He said some rich countries’ approaches to manufacturers to secure more vaccines are “affecting the deals with COVAX, and even the amount that was allocated for COVAX was reduced because of this”. He did not name those countries or give other details.

Tedros added that rich countries need to “cooperate in respecting the deals that COVAX did” and make sure before they seek more vaccines that their requests do not undermine those deals.

“But I don’t think they’re asking that question,” he said.

Tedros, who has previously warned that the world faces a “catastrophic moral failure” if COVID-19 vaccines are not distributed fairly, said he understands the political pressures leaders in high-income countries face.

They should, he added, tell voters that “the best way to protect you is not only to vaccinate you, but vaccinate the rest of the world, share the vaccine with the rest of the world”.

“If this virus is not defeated everywhere, we cannot defeat it globally. It will have a safe haven somewhere and can strike back,” Tedros said, adding that countries left behind in vaccinating could also become “breeding grounds for new variants”.

Calls for increased production

Tedros underlined the importance of using every opportunity to step up vaccine production “because, with increased production, the pie is increased, then there is a better volume to share”.

“Otherwise, with shortages, sharing is difficult,” he said. “And that’s exactly what’s happening now.”

Steinmeier conceded that money alone was not the solution, adding that vaccines were still a “scarce commodity”.

While refusing to be drawn on how many of its doses Germany would donate and when, Steinmeier said sharing the vaccines was in everyone’s interest.

“This is not easy but it is a question of humanity,” the German head of state said, adding that distributing vaccines, tests and medicines during the pandemic was a “litmus test for global solidarity”.

French President Emmanuel Macron has called in recent days on rich nations to donate 4-5 percent of their vaccine stock to developing countries in Africa as quickly as possible.

The 27-nation European Union is among the regions where authorities face pressure over a sluggish start to vaccination efforts. The bloc secured deals last week for millions of additional vaccines.

Source: News Agencies