Global health leaders call on wealthy nations to enforce vaccine equity

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reiterated its call for countries with high vaccination rates to meet their COVID-19 dose-sharing pledges for countries that remain at immediate risk.

More than 5.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally and some Western countries are already offering third so-called “booster jabs” while many poor nations lag far behind.

“Vaccine inequity is a solvable problem,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, appealing again for pharmaceutical companies to prioritize the UN-backed initiative known as COVAX, which is designed to share vaccines globally.

“We call on manufacturers to prioritize COVAX and AVAT (African Vaccine Acquisition Trust). We call on countries that have already achieved high coverage levels to swap their near-term vaccine deliveries, with COVAX and AVAT to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges immediately and to facilitate the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing.”

“I may sound like a broken record. I don’t care. I will continue to call for vaccine equity until we get it,” he added, using a phrase he has used before for other issues.

Drug makers — including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — have shown no indications they are eager to switch their current tactics, which involve appealing to rich countries and their regulators to authorize booster shots.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and a group of global health leaders today issued an urgent call for vaccine equity globally and in Africa in particular.

The health experts stressed that the worst pandemic in the last hundred years will not end unless and until, there is genuine global cooperation on vaccine supply and access.

They also reiterated the WHO’s global vaccination target for 70 percent of the population of all countries to be vaccinated by mid- 2022.

“More than 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally, but only 2 percent of those have been administered in Africa,” said Dr. Tedros. “This doesn’t only hurt the people of Africa, it hurts all of us. The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.”

Israel, France and Germany are among the countries that have already started dispensing third doses to certain people; the UK announced plans on Tuesday to offer boosters to anyone over 50 as well as younger people who might be more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Vaccine sharing is good but we shouldn’t have to be relying on vaccine sharing. Particularly when we can come to the table, put structures in place and say, we also want to buy,” said Strive Masiyima, Special Envoy to the African Union for COVID-19.

“American taxpayers, European taxpayers, they financed some of this intellectual property and it should be for the common good. So, it is not wrong that we say there should be waivers, it was for the common good. So, we ask for this IP to be made available” said Masiyima. “It was a great miracle to have these vaccines, now let this miracle be available to all mankind.”

The world should spare no effort to increase vaccine supply for lower-income countries, which can be done by removing all the barriers to scaling up manufacturing including waiving patents, freeing up supply chains and technology transfer.

As part of these efforts, WHO and COVAX partners announced in June, the first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub would be set up in South Africa.

High-income countries have promised to donate more than 1 billion doses, but less than 15 percent of those doses have materialized.

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