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Higher price vaccine deals outside COVAX will impact commitment to equitable access: WHO

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on January 08, 2021

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General WHO

Countries are pursuing deals outside the World Health Organization-supported COVAX, offering higher prices, and that is compromising the commitment to equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, said WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In the year after WHO first issued its Disease Outbreak News about this virus, 42 countries have started vaccinating their high-risk populations with various Covid-19 vaccines. ”Of the 42, 36 are high-income and six are upper middle-income countries,” the WHO chief said.

 

“This is clearly a problem and this problem is getting worse because some countries are pursuing new deals outside of COVAX offering higher prices. This compromises our collective commitment to equitable access. We have to take action to address this,” he said, calling on the 190 countries and economies that have committed to the COVAX Facility to ensure that vaccines are distributed swiftly and equitably.

“History will not judge us kindly if we fail the low- and middle-income countries in their hour of need and sharing is in the best interest of each and every country. We can only recover faster as a global community by sharing,” he said. The goal of the new COVAX dose-sharing facility was to despatch its first donations by end-January or early-February at the latest.

 

Currently, 235 vaccines are in the pipeline, according to the WHO landscape, of which 63 are in clinical development and 172 are in the pre-clinical stage. Only about a handful of vaccines have actually begun to get deployed. India expects to roll-out two of its candidates, the Serum Institute’s AstraZeneca-OxfordUniversity vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s product, by next week.

The WHO chief pointed to the Emergency Use Listing of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine and added that two auto destruct syringes have also received a similar listing to ensure countries have the best tools to safely roll out any COVAX vaccine.

SAGE meet

This week, the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization met to discuss policy recommendations for the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. SAGE recommended that health workers be prioritised for vaccination, followed by older people, he said. The challenge with this vaccine is its storage and distribution requirement at (minus) – 70 degrees Celsius.

The hundred-hundred initiative driven by WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank is supporting over 100 countries to conduct rapid readiness assessments and develop country-specific plans for vaccines and other Covid-19 tools. About 90 countries have completed their assessments and are readying for the global vaccine roll-out, he added.

China visit

Just as the world looks forward to ending the pandemic, he said, “we are also continuing to look back to understand its origins.” As agreed, members of the international scientific team began travelling to China this week to understand the origin of the Covid-19 virus. “On Tuesday we learned that Chinese officials had not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China. We are working with Chinese colleagues to ensure the international mission is able to proceed without further delay,” he said.

Published on January 08, 2021

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