Poorest will be trampled in stampede for vaccines, cautions WHO chief

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on November 24, 2020 Published on November 24, 2020

Director-General of World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (file photo)   -  Reuters

About $4.3 bn needed just this year to support mass delivery of Covid-19 tests, treatments

As governments across the world pull out all stops in procuring vaccines for their citizens, the World Health Organisation’s chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that there was a real risk now “that the poorest and most vulnerable will be trampled in the stampede for vaccines.”

Pointing out that the urgency with which the vaccines had been developed must be matched with the urgency to distribute them fairly, he said, “Now the international community must set a new standard for access.”

This, however, would need financial support of an estimated $4.3 billion, immediately to facilitate mass procurement and delivery of vaccines, tests and treatments. And another $ 23.8 billion would be needed next year, he said.

Also read: UNICEF lays plans to deliver Covid-19 vaccine to 92 low-income countries

The last several days have seen vaccine-makers Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Gamaleya Institute and the AstraZeneca-OxfordUniversity combine coming out with encouraging news from their advanced trials. All of them have claimed 90 per cent efficacy, and more, on their Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

“The light at the end of this long, dark tunnel is growing brighter,” he said, adding that there was real hope now that vaccines, in combination with other tried and tested public health measures, will help to end the pandemic.

The significance of this scientific achievement cannot be overstated, he said, pointing to the fact that “No vaccines in history have been developed as rapidly as these.”

Funding access

As concerns get raised by health advocacy groups on the equitable access of vaccines and other Covid-19 products and technology, the WHO chief said, it was the reason they had established the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator in April, with support from partners.

“The ACT Accelerator has supported the fastest, most coordinated and successful global effort in history to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics,” he said, adding that more than 50 diagnostic tests are being evaluated and new rapid antigen diagnostics are being made available for low- and middle-income countries;

Life-saving dexamethasone treatments are being rolled out, and new medicines including monoclonal antibodies are being tested, he said. About 187 countries participate in the COVAX facility to collaborate on the procurement and roll-out of vaccines, ensuring best possible prices, volumes and timing for all countries.

However, all other support aside, only a fundamental change in funding and approach will realise the full promise of the ACT Accelerator, he said, outlining the financial requirements for this year and the next.

“This isn’t charity, it’s the fastest and smartest way to end the pandemic and drive the global economic recovery,” he said. The International Monetary Fund estimates that if medical solutions can be made available faster and more widely, it could lead to a cumulative increase in global income of almost $9 trillion by end 2025. “The real question is not whether the world can afford to share vaccines and other tools; it’s whether it can afford not to,” he said.

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Published on November 24, 2020
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