The UN secretary-general and the World Health Organization chief said Thursday that vaccine disparity is fueling the COVID-19 pandemic as they unveiled a worldwide immunization strategy, while the UN chief stated that they do not have the authority to enforce distribution.
“Vaccine inequality is the best ally of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Antonio Guterres.
“It is allowing variants to develop and run wild, condemning the world to millions more deaths, and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars.”
“Science has played its part by delivering powerful, life-saving tools faster than for any outbreak in history,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus at a press webinar.
“But the concentration of those tools in the hands of a few countries and companies has led to a global catastrophe, with the rich protected while the poor remain exposed to a deadly virus.”
Tedros also said: “This is not a supply problem. It is an allocation problem.”
He called on global and regional multilateral development banks to support countries to more rapidly access the capital they need to fund vaccine delivery programs.
Guterres was asked if pharmaceutical companies and countries blocking or stalling efforts towards an intellectual property (IP) waiver proposed by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization are responsible for continued deaths.
“Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, leadership, and power are not aligned,” said the UN chief.
“The WHO and the whole UN system have shown leadership, but we have no power. We have no power to determine the things that you have just mentioned. We have no power to force companies to license or to make countries accept,” that an IP waiver applies.
The WHO launched the Strategy to Achieve Global Covid-19 Vaccination to help bring an end to what has become a two-track pandemic.
Under that, people in poorer countries continue to be at risk while those in richer countries with high vaccination rates enjoy much greater protection.
WHO had set a target to vaccinate 10% of every country, economy, and territory by the end of September but by that date, 56 countries had not been able to do so, with the vast majority of them in Africa and the Middle East.
The new strategy outlines a plan for achieving WHO’s targets to vaccinate 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70% by mid-2022.
“We can still achieve the targets for this year and next, but it will take a level of political commitment, action, and cooperation, beyond what we have seen to date,” said Tedros.
Meanwhile, Guterres said: “This is a costed, coordinated, and credible path out of the COVID-19 pandemic for everyone, everywhere.”
He said that without a coordinated, equitable approach, a reduction of cases in any one country would not be sustained over time. “For everyone’s sake, we must urgently bring all countries to a high level of vaccination coverage.”
Vaccinating 70% of the global population requires at least 11 billion vaccine doses, said the WHO.
By the end of September, just over 6 billion doses had been administered worldwide.
“With global vaccine production now at nearly 1.5 billion doses per month, there is sufficient vaccine from a supply perspective to achieve the global vaccination targets provided that there is equitable distribution of those doses,” said the WHO.