The World Health Organisation (WHO) says no fewer than 42 countries already rolling out the various COVID-19 vaccines which have been cleared for use, 36 are in high-income nations.
WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, made this known during the COVID-19 news conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
In a series of tweets posted on the UN health agency Twitter account @WHO, Ghebreyesus emphasised equitable distribution of the vaccines.
He said “there’s a clear problem that low and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet.
“We can and must solve this problem together through COVAX and the ACT-Accelerator”.
COVAX – set up in April 2020 by WHO, GAVI, the vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – are part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to provide COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines to all, regardless of their ability to pay.
According to the WHO boss, two billion doses of “safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines” have been secured by the international equitable vaccine alliance — COVAX, which will be ready for distribution as soon as delivered.
“And we also have the right of first refusal on an additional one billion doses,” the director general said, noting that rich countries had bought most of the supply so far, while middle and high income countries were still making bilateral deals.
He said it was apparent that even within the alliance, middle and high income countries were making bilateral deals, potentially bumping up the price for everyone, leaving vaccines out of reach for the poorest and most marginalised nations.
“Vaccine nationalism hurts us all and this is self-defeating,” he added.
Vaccine nationalism is when a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are made available in other countries.
This is done through pre-purchase agreements between a government and a vaccine manufacturer.
Ghebreyesus said that equitable vaccination “saves lives, stabilises health systems and will lead to a truly global economic recovery that stimulates job creation.”
Although it is normal for viruses to mutate, the WHO chief maintained that “if we don’t reduce transmission and vaccinate equitably, we’re helping it to thrive.
“Going forward, I want to see manufacturers prioritise supply and rollout through COVAX. I urge countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX.”
According to him, it is a very dangerous time in the course of the pandemic, with some of the highest numbers of deaths recorded at any point to date.
He, however, reiterated the urgency in complying with health advisories and recommended measures.
He added that “if I said one thing to people in areas where there are high numbers of cases, it would be to do all you can to avoid mixing with people from other households, especially inside.
“It is best to meet virtually, but if you have to meet others, do it carefully and with the right precautions.”
The WHO chief emphasised that healthcare workers be vaccinated as a priority.
He said “remember, ending this pandemic is one of humanities great races, and whether we like it or not, we will win or lose this race together.
“No country is exceptional and should cut the queue and vaccinate all their population, while some remain with no supply.
“Science has delivered, let’s not waste the opportunity to protect lives of those most at risk and ensure all economies have a fair shot at recovery,” he said.
In addition, he said, it was a very dangerous time in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic “and I do not want to see people become complacent as vaccines are starting to rollout.
“Over the past few days, we’ve seen some of the highest numbers of deaths recorded at any point in the pandemic.
“We’ve hit our target; 100 countries have now completed this critical process and the governments and health systems are on standby for global vaccine rollout.
“We are ready. COVAX is ready. Countries are ready,’’ he said.