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As governments move to secure COVID-19 vaccines for their populations, choosing these treatments should not be viewed as “some kind of nationalistic footrace”, with some countries winning and others losing, a senior official with the World Health Organization (WHO) told journalists on Friday.
Dr. Mike Ryan, Director of Emergencies, was responding to a question about public concern over governments deciding to acquire certain vaccines over others.
He warned against comparing national approaches in a competitive fashion, while calling for patience, tolerance and solidarity.
A race we must finish together
“I don’t think we should be seeing this as a game of winners and losers right now. We’re at the beginning”, said Dr. Ryan, speaking during the regular WHO press briefing from Geneva.
“I think it could be very destructive for us all to turn this into some kind of nationalistic footrace to who does what. We all have to get there together. We simply have to finish this race in a line together. And someone getting there first doesn’t necessarily help everybody else.”
Dr. Ryan explained that vaccines can have properties that make them more suitable for particular settings, which can influence government decision-making.
“They have been looking at prices, the profile of the product, the production capacity of the product, and their access to it because of that”, he said.
More vaccines coming onstream
WHO announced on Friday that nearly two billion doses of current and candidate COVID-19 vaccines have been secured through the COVAX Facility, a global partnership working to ensure equitable access for all countries.
While existing COVID-19 vaccines are limited and costly, many more are under development, including groundbreaking jabs that combine treatment for influenza or measles.
WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said the UN agency wants to support as many candidates as possible to go through clinical trials.
“Ideally, one would like to see a vaccine that’s a single dose, that can be stored at room temperature, that gives long lasting protection, that’s safe, effective, and is also manufactured easily and can be scaled and is affordable”, she said.
Dr. Katherine O’Brien, Director of Immunizations, Vaccines and Biologicals, added that having a variety of vaccines is important, stating “because of the supply situation, most countries are likely going to have to use more than one product.”
Clear and stringent criteria
WHO has established criteria for vaccines to come to market, including benchmarks for efficacy, safety and quality, which also align with the standards of regulatory agencies across the world.
Senior Advisor Dr. Bruce Aylward underscored that a candidate will only be endorsed once criteria are met.
“The general public should have great confidence in products that have been looked at by stringent regulatory authorities and the WHO process because it goes through all of those measures systematically: the efficacy, the safety, the quality of the product, but also the programmatic suitability to make sure these are something that is going to suit the circumstances in which these are going to be used”, he said.
With the criteria clear, it is up to regulatory agencies and countries to decide on which vaccines would be suitable for their populations, said Dr. Swaminathan.
“And they make decisions based on benefits and risks, because when you’re in a pandemic there is obviously an urgency and a need to get vaccines out to people. And therefore, one has to weigh the benefits and the risks at a particular time,” she said.