More producers of COVID-19 vaccines should follow AstraZeneca’s lead and license technology to other manufacturers, the World Health Organization chief said on Monday, as he described continuing vaccine inequity as “grotesque”.
AstraZeneca’s shot, which new US data showed was safe and effective despite some countries suspending inoculations over health concerns, is being produced in various locations including South Korea’s SKBioScience and the Serum Institute in India.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus blasted the growing gap between the number of coronavirus vaccines administered in rich and poor countries, branding the inequity a global “moral outrage”.
He said it was “shocking” how little had been done to avert an entirely predictable “catastrophic moral failure” to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide. The gap was “growing every single day, and becoming more grotesque every day,” he told a press conference.
“Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries,” Tedros said, adding that rich countries were giving themselves a false sense of security.
The UN health agency chief said the more transmission of the virus anywhere in the world, the more variants are likely to emerge – and the more of those that spring up, the more likely they are to evade vaccines.
AstraZeneca ‘very good vaccine’
Earlier, AstraZeneca released interim data showing its vaccine, developed with Oxford University, was 79 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and posed no increased risk of blood clots.
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan called it a “very good vaccine for all age groups”.
Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark have extended temporary suspensions of AstraZeneca’s shot as investigations continue into rare blood clotting events.
Still, WHO officials said African countries getting the vaccine via COVAX are moving ahead.
“They did ask a lot of questions but the demand for the vaccine is extremely high,” said WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward.
It remains possible for COVAX to hit a second-quarter goal of delivering 300 million doses, Aylward said, while acknowledging “teething problems”, with SKBioSciences and the Serum Institute hard-pressed to satisfy COVAX orders.
“We simply cannot get enough vaccine,” Aylward said.
“We’re hoping both companies will be able to scale up and keep up with the rate of deliveries we’re aiming for.”