The World Health Organization on Friday warned against “vaccine nationalism” as some richer countries have ordered more doses than they need in fighting COVID-19.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that COVAX, a global collaborative effort for coronavirus vaccination, has now secured contracts of 2 billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, which will be ready to roll out as soon as the vaccines are delivered.
But, he told a virtual media conference from Geneva, the challenge is that while 42 countries, including 36 high-income countries and six middle-income countries, are now rolling out safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, “there’s a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet.”
This is a problem that can and must be solved together, he said, through COVAX and the ACT-Accelerator, a global initiative to accelerate the development, production and equitable distribution of tests, drugs and vaccines.
Tedros noted that at the outset, rich countries have bought up the majority of the supply of multiple vaccines, and now both high- and middle-income countries, that are part of COVAX, are making additional bilateral deals.
“This potentially bumps up the price for every one and means high-risk people in the poorest and most marginalized countries don’t get the vaccine,” he said.
The WHO chief also stressed that some companies and countries have not submitted critical data, which blocks the whole system of procurement and delivery.
“Vaccine nationalism hurts us all and is self-defeating,” he said.
He said that on the flipside, vaccinating equitably saves lives, stabilizes health systems and would lead to a truly global economic recovery that stimulates job creation.
He also said he wants to see manufacturers prioritize supply and rollout through COVAX.
“I urge countries that have contracted more vaccines than they will need, and are controlling the global supply, to also donate and release them to COVAX immediately, which is ready today to roll out quickly,” he said. “And I urge countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX.”
On Friday, the European Commission announced that it proposed to European Union member states the purchase of an additional 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.
This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU. The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021.
“So the fact remains that Europe will have more than enough vaccines within a reliable timeframe. And this also shows that the path we have taken together in Europe is the right one,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday, announcing the additional doses of vaccines.
On Friday, Tedros also warned people against becoming complacent as vaccines are starting to roll out. In the past days, the WHO have reported some of the highest numbers of deaths recorded at any point in the pandemic.
“This is happening because, over previous weeks, there has been a lack of compliance with what health authorities are advising in several countries,” he said, adding that the virus has taken advantage of this and is spreading at alarming rates in some countries.
The United States reported more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, the highest since the pandemic started a year ago. It is also the third day in a row of record daily deaths from the novel coronavirus, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
The number of people who have been infected in the US exceeded 21.56 million, nearly one-quarter of the global total.
“That will continue for the coming weeks and the coming months if we do not change our behavior,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said of the increased cases, deaths and hospitalization in some countries.