The United Nations Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on countries to work together to contain the COVID-19.
Ghebreyesus was speaking during the 148th session of the Executive Board when he urged rich countries to ensure that there is equitable access to the vaccine by all countries, for now, to fast contain the virus that has killed over 1 million people.
Ghebreyesus said it was not right for young healthier people in rich countries to be vaccinated before older vulnerable people in poor countries are vaccinated:
….Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need – literally and figuratively.
The recent emergence of rapidly-spreading variants makes the rapid and equitable rollout of vaccines all the more important.
But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.
It’s right that all governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first.
But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.
There will be enough vaccine for everyone. But right now, we must work together as one global family to prioritize those most at risk of severe diseases and death, in all countries
Dr Ghebreyesus also gave an update on the vaccination program and said about 2 billion doses of the vaccine have been secured:
For the past 9 months, the ACT Accelerator and the COVAX vaccines pillar have been laying the groundwork for the equitable distribution and deployment of vaccines.
We’ve overcome scientific barriers, legal barriers, logistical barriers and regulatory barriers.
We have secured 2 billion doses from five producers, with options on more than 1 billion more doses, and we aim to start deliveries in February.
I use this opportunity to thank Gavi and CEPI.
COVAX is ready to deliver what it was created for.
But in recent weeks I have heard from several Member States who have questioned whether COVAX will get the vaccines it needs, and whether high-income countries will keep the promises they have made.
As the first vaccines begin to be deployed, the promise of equitable access is at serious risk.
More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25 thousand; just 25.
The WHO director then urged rich countries to not take advantage of their financial muscle in buying the vaccine and ensure that there is equitable access to the vaccination to everyone in order to contain the pandemic:
I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.
Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong.
The situation is compounded by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO.
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.
Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating.
Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.
Vaccine equity is not just a moral imperative, it is a strategic and economic imperative.
A recent study estimated that the economic benefits of equitable vaccine allocation for 10 high-income countries would be at least 153 billion U.S. dollars in 2021, rising to 466 billion dollars by 2025. That’s more than 12 times the total cost of the ACT Accelerator.
It’s not too late. I call on all countries to work together in solidarity to ensure that within the first 100 days of this year, vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries.
It’s in the best interest of each and every nation on Earth.
Together, we must change the rules of the game, in three ways