World Health Organization chief warned the world was on the brink of ‘catastrophic moral failure’, with poor countries lagging behind rich countries in accessing the vaccines needed to protect their populations against Covid -19.
“The price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the poorest countries of the world,” said Managing Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It is not normal that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”
WHO set up the Covax center last year, along with Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines around the world. The program aims to distribute 2 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the year for free or at a reduced cost. But he struggled to mobilize the necessary support from rich countries to subsidize the initiative.
Mr Tedros said the actions of drug companies and wealthy governments had undermined the effort.
“Even though they speak the language of fair access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, bypassing Covax, driving up prices and trying to get to the front of the line,” a- he declared. “It’s wrong.”
Rather than submitting their vaccines for WHO approval, vaccine makers have prioritized getting regulatory approval from authorities in wealthy countries, Tedros said. He urged all developers to share full clinical trial data with Covax.
Covax has so far been successful in securing orders for 1.07 billion doses, with deliveries to countries only due to start later in the year. Doubts over Covax’s ability to meet its $ 2 billion dose target have left governments cash-strapped in Africa and parts of Latin America and South Asia, scrambling to strike their own deals.
Until June, Covax supplies “may not exceed the needs of frontline health workers, and therefore may not be enough to contain the ever-growing toll of the pandemic in Africa,” the president said last week. South African Cyril Ramaphosa.
On January 7, South Africa, with a population of 58 million, announced that it had reached an agreement to acquire 1.5 million doses of AstraZenca’s Covid-19 vaccine from Indian manufacturer Serum Institute. Guinea is experimenting with a vaccine developed by the Russian public institute Gamaleya. But South Africa is so far the only African country to have concluded a bilateral agreement on vaccines.
In response, the African Union intervened last week, announcing that it had agreed to purchase 270 million doses for its 54 member countries from Pfizer, AstraZeneca through the Serum Institute and Johnson & Johnson. African countries will be able to place orders through the AU and pay on delivery or over five years.
The AU said it was also working with the World Bank to enable its members to access around $ 5 billion in funding to pay for vaccines. But the doses undertaken to date are still well below the doses needed to protect the African population of more than 1.3 billion people.
Mr Tedros urged all countries to share data with WHO on prices, volumes and delivery dates in their bilateral contracts with vaccine manufacturers to help WHO better understand and manage global supplies.