Geneva, Jan 16 : World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged fairness to the access of COovid-19 vaccines, saying he wants to “see vaccination underway in every country in the next 100 days”.
Speaking at a virtual press conference from Geneva on Friday, Tedros stressed that efforts should be made to ensure that middle and low-income countries are equally protected, reports Xinhua news agency.
High-income countries are disproportionately represented among countries that started vaccinating, the WHO chief said, stressing that the lessons from previous epidemics should not be forgotten.
“I know what it’s like to come from a continent where not all health services are available,” he said.
Tedros added that when AIDS drugs first rolled out, they were only available in rich countries until a historic movement of health advocates, civil society and manufacturers provided a rollout of low-cost anti-retroviral drugs.
He recalled that in the H1N1 pandemic, which hit the world in 2009-2010, by the time low-income countries received vaccine supply, the pandemic was over.
“We don’t want this to be repeated,” said Tedros.
“I want to see vaccination underway in every country in the next 100 days, so that health workers and those at high-risk are protected first,” he said.
Mariangela Simao, WHO Assistant Director-General for Drug Access, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals, told the press conference that so far, 38 of the 46 countries that had started vaccinations are high-income countries.
She emphasized that COVAX, a WHO-led mechanism to ensure vaccine access for all, “was there to correct the course” and allow access to vaccines for low to middle-income countries.
“The world we live in is not a fair world,” Simao said.
“The COVAX facility is a way for us to reach fairness.”
According to the WHO official, under the COVAX mechanism, “we hope to have good news for you on this in February of this year”.
Currently, 236 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide — 63 of them in clinical trials — in countries including Germany, China, Russia, the UK and the US, according to the WHO.