GENEVA (AFP) — The World Health Organization on Friday urged rich countries to stop jumping the queue and cutting their own deals with manufacturers to hog the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that right from the outset, wealthier nations had snapped up most of the supply of multiple vaccine products — potentially bumping up the price for everyone else battling the coronavirus pandemic.
He called on states that have booked excess vaccine doses to free them up for the globally-shared Covax programme, which aims to distribute vaccines equitably around the world, regardless of wealth.
“There’s a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet,” Tedros told a virtual news conference from WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.
“At the outset, rich countries have bought up the majority of the supply of multiple vaccines.”
Tedros said 42 countries had started rolling out their COVID-19 vaccination programme — 36 high-income nations and six middle-income states.
“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.
“No country is exceptional and should cut the queue and vaccinate all their population, while some remain with no supply of the vaccine.”
Covax, the WHO co-led globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort, has struck agreements for two billion vaccine doses.
It aims to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the population in each participating country by the end of the year, with funding covered for the 92 lower- and lower-middle income economies involved in the scheme.
The facility is awaiting delivery on contracts for two billion doses of vaccines and has first refusal on another billion.
Bruce Aylward, the WHO lead on Covax, said the vaccine distribution so far had left vulnerable older people and front-line health workers in poorer countries more exposed to the virus. \\
“They are not being protected at the same rates,” he said
“Fifty percent of the high-income countries in the world are vaccinating today. Zero percent of the low-income countries are vaccinating. That is not equitable.”
China mission access unresolved
The novel coronavirus has killed nearly 1.9 million people and more than 88 million cases have been recorded since the outbreak emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organisations.
A 10-member expert mission to China was meant to arrive this week to visit Wuhan and investigate the origins of the pandemic.
However, with some team members on their way, Beijing suddenly told the WHO that the experts’ permission to enter the country had not been finalised.
“We are in touch with Chinese officials and they agreed to share with us the specific dates for the travel in the next few days.” Tedros said.
“We are also advised that the visa and other needs are on their way.
“But we expect to fix travel dates next week.“