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Vaccine Equity The ‘Challenge Of Our Time’, WHO Chief Declares, As Governments Call For Solidarity, Sharing

With the number of new COVID-19 cases nearly doubling
over the past two months, approaching the highest infection
rate the world has seen during the pandemic, the unequal
distribution of vaccines is not only a moral outrage, but
economically and epidemiologically self-defeating, the head
of the UN health agency told a special ministerial meeting
of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on

The summit – held in virtual format on the
theme, “A Vaccine for All” – brought together senior
officials from the UN, government, business, the scientific
community and civil society, who explored ways to guarantee
equal access to the vaccine as a global public good, and to
strengthen countries’ readiness for its

“Vaccine equity is the challenge of
our time”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of
the World Health Organization (WHO) told the gathering in
opening remarks. “And we are failing.”


Driving that point home, he said that of
the 832 million vaccine doses administered, 82 per cent have
gone to high or upper middle-income countries, while only
0.2 per cent have been sent to their low-income peers. In
high-income countries alone, one in four people have
received a vaccine, a ratio that drops precipitously to 1 in
500 in poorer countries.

Rapidly spreading variants,
the inconsistent use and premature easing of public health
measures, fatigue with social restrictions and the
“dramatic” inequity in vaccine coverage; all have led to
an alarming spike in new cases and deaths, he

‘Partnership, not

“This is a time for
partnership, not patronage”, he stressed. “We have the
tools to end this pandemic.” The Access to COVID-19 Tools
Accelerator, created by WHO and its partners, along with the
, can prevent mistakes of the past – when the
world 40 years ago was slow to deploy lifesaving
antiretrovirals to poor countries during the HIV and AIDS

Today, he said that while COVAX
has distributed 40 million doses to 100 countries, this is
nowhere near enough. WHO had expected to distribute 100
million doses by now. Some countries have received nothing,
none have received enough – and some are not receiving
second-round allocation on time. “The problem is not
getting vaccines out of COVAX,” he assured. “The problem
is getting them in.”

WHO is working with the Gavi,
the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic
Preparedness Innovations to ramp up production and supply,
he said. A COVAX manufacturing task force has been formed,
and promisingly, a New Partnership for African Manufacturing
will be formed by the African Union. It aims to build five
vaccine production hubs on the continent, starting with
three mRNA facilities in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa.
WHO is also developing regional regulatory capacity through
the African Medicines Agency.

Tedros called on
countries with enough vaccines to cover their populations
“many times over” to make immediate donations to COVAX.
More broadly, it is vital to explore every option for
boosting production – including voluntary licenses,
technology pools and the waver of certain intellectual
property provisions – and to invest in local vaccine

WHO will continue to provide technical
assistance and add manufacturing bases across Africa, Asia
and Latin America.

Never in its 75-year history has
the role of the United Nations been more important. “We
cannot defeat this virus one country at a time,” he said.
“We can only do it with a coordinated global effort, based
on the principles of solidarity, equity and

WTO: Practical solutions

, Director General of the World Trade
Organization (WTO), called such disparities “morally
unconscionable”. Addressing inequity is a task that
confronts the world with daunting technical, logistical,
policy and political hurdles.

However, they can be
overcome in a practical, empirically informed manner. While
she said the impulse to conserve supply is understandable,
securing personal safety is not enough. “We must find a
way to share”, she insisted.

A recent WTO vaccine
equity event had some encouraging takeaways, she said,
making clear that there is untapped potential in developing
countries to ramp up production, and that resources are
available to bankroll such investment. WTO members have
reduced export restrictions from 109 in nearly 90 countries,
to 51 in 62 countries, and with pragmatic engagement, she
said they can find ways to bridge intellectual property
rights concerns.

Universal coverage: The only way

, President of ECOSOC,
in addition to being a moral imperative, universal
vaccine coverage is the only realistic way out of the

He called for ramping up production,
addressing intellectual property issues, supporting weak
health systems in developing countries, removing export
restrictions – and importantly – funding the WHO ACT
Accelerator and COVAX facility. Decisive steps towards
universal access is a prerequisite for economic recovery, he

‘Multilateralism at its

“No topic is as relevant or pertinent to
the world today as that of vaccines”, said Volkan Bozkir,
President of the General Assembly. “Our efforts have not
been perfect,” he acknowledged. “We must finish what we
have started.”

He pressed Governments to recommit to
the principles of human solidarity and cooperation,
stressing that progress made to date is the result of
countries working with hundreds of companies and thousands
of scientists – “multilateralism at its

Towards the goal of “vaccines for all”
he also urged countries to extend resources to COVAX; invest
in vaccine research, production and distribution; donate
vaccines to countries in need and tackle misinformation to
ensure everyone is educated on the benefits of

“It is job of United Nations and is
Member States to act on these

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