Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, says the organisation had secured two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine, with a billion more in the pipeline and deliveries expected to begin next month.
He made the remarks as he addressed a meeting of the Committee on the functioning of the International Health Regulations, 2005, during the COVID-19 response, posted on the WHO website,
Ghebreyesus said ensuring that countries would have access to any COVID-19 vaccines, was the promise of a global mechanism established last April, known as the COVAX Facility.
“The vaccines should be administered in every country as a symbol of hope for overcoming both the pandemic and the inequalities that lie at the root of so many global health challenges.
“Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritise bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong”, he said.
Additionally, he said, most manufacturers had also prioritised regulatory approval in rich countries, where profits are higher, rather than submitting their dossiers to WHO for pre-qualification.
“This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruptions.
“Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating”, the WHO DG added.
Underlining that vaccine equity also has economic benefits, Ghebreyesus urged countries to “work together in solidarity” to ensure inoculation of all health workers, and older people at most risk worldwide is underway, within the first 100 days of the year.
He pressed for action in three areas to “change the rules of the game”, starting with an appeal for transparency in any bilateral contracts between countries and COVAX, including on volumes, pricing and delivery dates.
“We call on these countries to give much greater priority to COVAX’s place on the queue, and to 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”, he said.
The director general also called for vaccine producers to provide WHO with full data, for regulatory review in real time, to accelerate approvals, while urging countries to only use vaccines that have met international safety standards, and to accelerate readiness for their deployment.
“My challenge to all Member States is to ensure that by the time World Health Day arrives on the 7th of April, COVID-19 vaccines are being administered in every country, he said.
Meanwhile, the Committee on the functioning of the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR),2005, during the COVID-19 response, has recommended the issuance of an intermediate level alert before the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The Chair of the committee, Prof. Lothar Wieler, said this in a speech to the 148th session of the WHO Executive Board.
Convened by the WHO Director-General on 8 Sept. 2020, in line with the World Health Assembly Resolution WHA73.1, the committee was mandated to review the functioning of IHR, 2005, during the COVID-19 response.
The committee was also tasked with reviewing the status of implementation of the relevant recommendations of previous IHR Review Committees and to make technical recommendations to the Director-General, including any potential amendments.
Wieler said the previous review committee, on the Ebola response, recommended the use of an intermediate level alert, but the recommendation was not taken up.
He said the 5th open meeting of the Committee on 12 January, 2021, discussed many issues, including the possible introduction of a grading system.
“The different views expressed by Member States and the advantages and potential disadvantages of a new system will be studied further by the Committee.
“It is clear, that global preparedness, alert and response actions need to start much earlier and more decisively than they did during COVID-19. But it is far from certain, that introducing an intermediate level of alert would result in such earlier action.
“The Committee is considering how regular global and regional risk assessments can be better used to drive earlier and more targeted response measures at all levels. The aim, the Committee feels, should be to react early and strongly enough so as to prevent the need to declare a PHEIC,’’ he said.