WHO chief urges wealthy nations to delay vaccinating youth, donate to COVAX to help poorer countries
Geneva, May 15, 2021
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday urged wealthier countries to consider delaying vaccinating their younger people against COVID-19 and instead donate vaccines to COVAX, the global vaccine solidarity initiative.
"Because in low and lower-middle income countries, vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunize health and care workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently," he said at a media briefing here.
"At present, only 0.3% of vaccine supply is going to low-income countries.
"Trickle down vaccination is not an effective strategy for fighting a deadly respiratory virus," he said.
Ghebreyesus said that the fact that so many are still not protected is a sad reflection on the gross distortion in access to vaccines across the globe.
"Last September in the Economist we warned about the threat of vaccine nationalism and some said we were being alarmist. In January, I spoke about the potential unfolding of a moral catastrophe.
"Unfortunately, we are now witnessing this play out.
"In a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the vaccine supply, lower risk groups are now being vaccinated.
"I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to COVAX," he said.
Ghebreyesus also said that the situation in India remained hugely concerning, with several states continuing to see a worrying number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
"WHO is responding and has shipped thousands of oxygen concentrators, tents for mobile field hospitals, masks and other medical supplies. And we thank all the stakeholders who are supporting India.
"But it’s not only India that has emergency needs. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Egypt are just some of the countries that are dealing with spikes in cases and hospitalizations.
"Some countries in the Americas still have high numbers of cases and as a region, the Americas accounted for 40% of all COVID-19 deaths last week. There are also spikes in some countries in Africa.
"These countries are in heightened response mode and WHO will continue to provide support in all ways possible," he said.
Ghebreyeus noted that COVID-19 had already cost more than 3.3 million lives and the world was on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first.
"Saving lives and livelihoods with a combination of public health measures and vaccination – not one or the other - is the only way out of the pandemic.
"Vaccine supply remains a key challenge, but this week I have been pleased to see leaders and manufacturers working to address some of these issues.
"First, there have been a number of new country announcements about sharing vaccines with COVAX, which is the fastest way to ensure equitable rollout of vaccines.
"Second, new deals involving tech-transfer and sharing of know-how between international manufacturers to scale up vaccine production have been announced.
"And third, leaders including the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, have called for all trade barriers to be lifted as soon as possible. Muchas gracias," he said.
Ghebreyesus said WHO has again convened researchers and scientists from around the world to update the Research and Innovation Roadmap to take stock of what has been learned and identify the most pressing knowledge gaps.
"From the outset of this pandemic, WHO’s R&D Blueprint for Epidemics played a facilitating and coordinating role, convening expert networks to drive progress across a range of thematic areas and connecting key funders to focus on identified research priorities.
"In the past 18 months, major advances have been made in the understanding of modes of transmission, epidemiological trends, clinical management, development of point of care diagnostics, treatments and a large number of vaccines.
"Social and behavioral scientists and ethics experts have also worked to ensure that research was up to the highest ethical standards.
"The research forum is being Webcast live over two days and I challenged them to deliver complete solutions that take the development, evaluation and deployment of tools from their beginning to their end, prioritizing both equity and efficiency.
"I urged them to expand collaboration between expert groups and partners and utilise global research capacity that has not yet been sufficiently leveraged , particularly in lower income countries.
"And finally, I urged them to further promote large platform trials across the world. This is the fastest way to prove the efficacy of new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.
"It’s amazing how far the world has come in less than 18 months, but I have high hopes that breakthrough innovation will continue at record pace," he added.