WHO: One country got 25 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Not 25 million; not 25 thousand; just 25
Speaking in his opening address to the WHO’s annual Executive Board meeting, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on both governments and vaccine manufacturers to work together to prioritize those most at risk from the vaccine saying, ‘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.’
Referencing COVAX, the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level, Dr. Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, COVAX is ready to deliver what it was created for having secured 2 billion doses from five producers, with options on more than 1 billion more doses. Deliveries of those doses are due to commence in February.
However, he cautioned that the promise of equitable access is at ‘serious risk’ and said, ‘44 bilateral deals were signed last year, and at least 12 have already been signed this year.’
In illustrating how the risk is manifesting, Dr. Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, ‘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.’
He appealed to countries and companies who have signed bilateral deals which drive up the cost of the vaccine and enable countries to jump the queue to consider the impact of their decisions which will leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk. He referred to the making of bilateral deals as ‘self-defeating’ as ‘these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.’
Criticism was also made of the decisions by most manufacturers to prioritize regulatory approval in rich countries where they will make higher profits. He warned this has the potential to delay COVAX deliveries and lead to hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption.
While the European Union has allocated more than €850 million to COVAX controversy arose last week when it became apparent that Germany had signed a bilateral deal with Pfizer-BioNTech for 30 million vaccine doses outside of the allocation it will receive under the EU’s joint vaccination program.
Dr. Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries who have already signed deals to be transparent with COVAX and to give it priority. He also asked that those countries share their own doses with COVAX, especially once they have vaccinated their own health workers and older populations, so that other countries can do the same. ■