Vaccinating equitably ‘saves lives, stabilizes health systems’ – WHO chief

UNICEF/Panjwani Families receive vaccinations and counselling at a socially distanced Village Health and Nutrition Day in Gujarat, India.  

Two billion doses of “safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines” have been secured by the international equitable vaccine alliance COVAX, and they will be ready for distribution as soon they are delivered, the UN health agency chief said on Friday. 

“And we also have the right of first refusal on an additional one billion doses”, World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,  updated journalists in a regular media briefing. 

Level playing field 

He highlighted however, that of the 42 countries already rolling out the various COVID-19 vaccines which have been cleared for use, 36 are in high income nations.

“There’s a clear problem that low and most middle income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet”, Tedros said, adding that can and must be solved “together through COVAX and the ACT-Accelerator”. 

COVAX – set up last April by WHO, GAVI the vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to provide COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to all, regardless of their ability to pay. 

As rich countries have purchased most of the supply so far, Tedros said it was apparent that even within the alliance, middle and high income countries are making bilateral deals, potentially bumping up the price for everyone, leaving vaccines out of reach for the poorest and most marginalized nations. 

“Vaccine nationalism hurts us all and is self-defeating”, spelled out the top WHO official. 

Tedros said that vaccinating equitably “saves lives, stabilizes health systems” and would lead to “a truly global economic recovery that stimulates job creation”. 

Although it is normal for viruses to mutate, the WHO chief maintained that “if we don’t reduce transmission and vaccinate equitably…we’re helping it thrive”. 

“Going forward, I want to see manufacturers prioritize supply and rollout through COVAX”, he said. “And I urge countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX”. 

Stay out of the mix 

Tedros warned that now is a very dangerous time in the course of the pandemic, with some of the highest numbers of deaths recorded at any point to date and reiterated the urgency in complying with health advisories and recommended measures.  

“If I said one thing to people in areas where there are high numbers of cases, it would be to do all you can to avoid mixing with people from other households, especially inside”, he stated. 

“It is best to meet virtually but if you have to meet others, do it carefully and with the right precautions”.  

Win or lose ‘together’ 

The WHO chief call for health and care workers to be vaccinated as a priority: “Remember, ending this pandemic is one of humanities great races, and whether we like it or not, we will win or lose this race together”, he said.  

“No country is exceptional and should cut the queue and vaccinate all their population, while some remain with no supply”, Tedros warned.  

“Science has delivered, let’s not waste the opportunity to protect lives of those most at risk and ensure all economies have a fair shot at recovery”.