Promised equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines at ‘serious risk’

WHO DG warns world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure

As the first vaccines begin to be deployed against Covid-19 the promise of equitable access is at serious risk, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this morning.

In his opening remarks at the 148th session of the WHO Executive Board, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said that one year ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life-saving vaccines had been developed.

“What happens next is up to us. We have an opportunity to beat history; to write a different story; to avoid the mistakes of the HIV and H1N1 [swine flu] pandemics.”

But now people faced the real danger that even as vaccines brought hope to some, they became another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.

Dr Ghebreyesus underlined that it was not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries were vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.

More than 39 million doses of vaccine had now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. He added that just 25 doses had been given in one lowest-income country.

“Not 25m; not 25,000; just 25.

“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure — and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.

Together, he urged people must change the rules of the game, in three ways. First, the WHO called on countries with bilateral contracts — and control of supply — to be transparent on these contracts.

Second, it pressed vaccine producers to provide the WHO with full data for regulatory review in real time, to accelerate approvals.

Third, the WHO called on all countries introducing vaccination to only use vaccines that meet rigorous international standards for safety, efficacy, and quality, and to accelerate readiness for deployment.

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