An expert independent panel monitoring the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic says wealthy nations have not done enough to transfer COVID-19 vaccines to developing nations where they are desperately needed as the Delta variant drives a new wave of disease around the world,
In May, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), called for the reallocation of one billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine from high-income countries with adequate coverage to low and middle-income nations by September, with another billion by the middle of 2022.
“The world is far from meeting those targets,” Helen Clark, the co-chair of the IPPPR told the United Nations General Assembly in a briefing on Wednesday. “Some commitments have been made but much more needs to be done, and it can be done urgently.”
The pandemic has worsened since the IPPPR released its report and the Delta variant is heightening a surge in coronavirus across the Asia Pacific and other parts of the world where only a small proportion of the population has been vaccinated. Some countries health systems are being pushed to the brink of collapse and death rates are rising.
Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the other co-chair, said there was an urgent need to overhaul the way vaccines and treatments were developed, noting that in its May report the panel had described the current system as “not fit for purpose”.
“Vaccine inequity is a key factor in the wave of death we’re seeing across Africa, Asia and Latin America,” Clark said, stressing that the panel backed the temporary waiver of patents under the World Trade Organizations or WTO’s TRIPS agreement to ensure more vaccines could be made quickly. The US has also backed that move.
“It’s astonishing and self-defeating that pharmaceutical manufacturers continue not to share the technology or know-how which could help quickly scale manufacturing. We believe there is a need to shift away from a market-based model to one based on global public goods.”
The IPPPR’s May report was scathing about the world’s response to the pandemic saying a “toxic cocktail” of dithering and poor coordination meant the warning signs had gone unheeded and that politicians had failed to learn from the past.
Sirleaf, who led Liberia during the Ebola crisis of 2014 to 2016, told the meeting that the general assembly had a “decisive role” to play in backing the institutional reforms necessary to ensure the world responds more effectively to global health crises.
“This must be the last pandemic to cause devastation on the scale we are witnessing today,” Sirleaf said. “We need a stronger international system for pandemic preparedness and response that understands the threats, is alert, and is poised to take collective action. The job can’t be done by any single country working alone. It can’t even be done by a group of countries, no matter how willing, because we are only as strong as our weakest link.”
The IPPPR has recommended increased authority and independence for the World Health Organization (WHO), including the provision of “adequate, predictable, flexible and sustainable funding”. Its director-general and regional directors should also serve single terms of seven years, the panel said.
Former US President Donald Trump had said he was cutting donations to the WHO and would withdraw the US from the organisation, amid accusations it was too close to China.
Since President Joe Biden took office, the US has returned to the WHO and stressed the need for a multilateral response to global health security.
On Wednesday, at a meeting with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave his backing to WHO plans to conduct additional studies on the origin of COVID-19, including in China where the virus first emerged at the end of 2019. China pushed back against that proposal last week.
“(Blinken) stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.