Now is the time for true leadership, not empty promises : WHO DG

Dilini Madushanki | Published: 10:23 AM Sep 9 2021
World Now is the time for true leadership, not empty promises : WHO DG

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus expressed his displeasure with the evident lack of support and help provided to low-income countries in battling COVID-19, claiming he will not stay silent when the companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers.

The COVID-19 situation remains grim as ever, with over 50,000 people having died of the virus every week since October last year. For the past month, deaths have remained at almost 70,000 a week. 

"We have the solutions to stop transmission & save lives. But those solutions are not being used well nor shared well," Dr. Tedros said, asserting that the inequitable distribution of life-saving tools including diagnostics, oxygen, personal protective equipment and vaccines is driving a "two-track COVID-19 pandemic".

At present, countries with the highest vaccine coverage are seeing a decoupling of COVID-19 cases and deaths,  allowing them to reopen their societies without their health systems being overwhelmed. However, Dr. Tedros said that the premature relaxing of public health and social measures is putting unvaccinated and immunocompromised people at extreme risk.

While hope beams on these countries, countries with low vaccine coverage continue to see high case fatality rates.

Additionally, some countries are refusing entry to people who have been fully vaccinated with a vaccine that has WHO Emergency Use Listing, but which has not been approved by their own national regulators.

"This is creating more chaos, confusion and discrimination, with some countries even refusing to use certain vaccines because of concern their citizens will be denied entry to other countries," Dr. Tedros said.

Speaking on the issue, he said that WHO Emergency Use Listing follows a rigorous process based on internationally recognized standards. All vaccines that have received WHO Emergency Use Listing are safe and effective in preventing severe COVID-19 disease and death, including against the Delta variant.

"We thank those countries that recognize all vaccines with WHO Emergency Use Listing, and we call on all countries to do the same," Dr. Tedros expressed.

Globally, 5.5 billion vaccine doses have now been administered, but 80% have been administered in high- and upper-middle income countries.

Dr. Tedros said that WHO's global targets remain to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of this month, at least 40% by the end of this year and 70% of the world’s population by the middle of next year.

Almost 90% of high-income countries have now reached the 10% target and more than 70% have reached the 40%. However, not a single low-income country has reached either target.

"That’s not their fault. We’ve heard excuses from manufacturers and some high-income countries about how low-income countries can’t absorb vaccines," the WHO Director General said.

Dr. Tedros noted that high-income countries have promised to donate more than 1 billion doses, but less than 15% of those doses have materialised. Manufacturers have promised to prioritize COVAX and low-income countries. 

"We don’t want any more promises. We just want the vaccines," he said.

He called for an extension on the global moratorium on COVID-19 booster doses he called for earlier.

"A month ago, I called for a global moratorium on COVID-19 booster doses at least until the end of September, to prioritise vaccinating the most at-risk people around the world who are yet to receive their first dose." 

"There has been little change in the global situation since then, so today I am calling for an extension of the moratorium until at least the end of the year, to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40% of its population."

He added that third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations where there's evidence of waning immunity against severe COVID-19 and death, such as immunocompromised people who didn't respond sufficiently to their initial doses or are no longer producing antibodies.

"But for now, we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated." 

The WHO Director General claimed that he was "appalled" after reading the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations' (IFPMA) statement. The IFPM said that G7 countries now have enough COVID-19 vaccines for all their adults and teenagers and to offer booster doses to at-risk groups so the manufacturing scale-up should now shift to globally sharing vaccines.

"In reality, manufacturers & high-income countries have long had the capacity to not only vaccinate their own priority groups, but to simultaneously support the vaccination of those same groups in all countries," he remarked.

"We have been calling for vaccine equity from the beginning, not after the richest countries have been taken care of."

"I will not stay silent when the companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers," he added, saying that the world’s 20 leading economies hold the key to vaccine equity and ending the pandemic.

Dr. Tedros said that he called on the G20 to support the achievement of WHO’s global vaccination targets by:

-Swapping near-term vaccine deliveries with COVAX

-Fulfilling dose-sharing pledges by the end of this month at the latest 

-Facilitating the sharing of technology, know-how and IP

"We have the tools. It’s clear what needs to happen. Now is the time for true leadership, not empty promises".

Dilini Madushanki | Published: 10:23 AM Sep 9 2021

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