Why WHO has warned countries against Covid-19 vaccine nationalism

Leave a comment / By: manifel / 11 January, 2021 12:56:36PM
Why WHO has warned countries against Covid-19 vaccine nationalism

Rich countries have bought up the majority of the supply of vaccines against Covid-19, a situation that is threatening the global vaccination effort, according to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation.

“The time to deliver vaccines equitably is now,” he said through his Twitter handle on Sunday, January 10, 2021. 

At present, he explained, 42 countries are rolling out safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines, 36 of which are high-income countries while six are middle-income. 

As a result, he explained, there’s a clear problem that low and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet.


This issue, he said, potentially bumps up the price for everyone and means high-risk people in the poorest and most marginalised countries don’t get the vaccine.

“Now we’re also seeing both high and middle-income countries, that are part of COVAX, making additional bilateral deals,” he said.

COVAX is the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level. 

COVAX – set up by entities including the WHO in April last year – has now secured contracts of 2 billion doses of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines, which Ghebreyesus said they were ready to roll out as soon as the vaccines are delivered. 

Under the initiative, the vaccine allocation will be driven by public health needs for priority groups, which may represent about 20 per cent of the population, in the first year.

The WHO recommends front-line personnel such as health workers, seniors as well as people suffering from chronic diseases, be the first priority to receive the vaccine.

Vaccine nationalism stands in the way of equitable vaccination

However, Ghebreyesus said that the current challenge is that rich countries have bought up the majority of the supply of multiple vaccines. 

Going forward, he said that he wants to see manufacturers prioritise supply and rollout through COVAX. 

“Vaccine nationalism hurts us all and is self-defeating,” he said.

“I urge countries that have contracted more vaccines than they would need and are controlling the global supply to also donate and release them to the COVAX immediately; which is ready today to rollout them quickly.

For instance, the European Commission proposed to the EU Member States on Friday, January 8, 2021, to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses. 

This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU, the Commission said. That is about half of the current annual vaccine production capacity of the two pharmaceutical companies.

Overall, the EU has secured up to 2.3 billion doses from the most promising vaccine candidates for Europe and its neighbourhood. Yet, Europe’s population is estimated at 447.7 million.

Equitable access to vaccines important to lives, economy

But on the flipside, Ghebreyesus said, vaccinating equitably saves lives, stabilises health systems, and would lead to a truly global economic recovery that stimulates job creation.   

“Importantly, it would also help us limit the virus’ opportunity to mutate,” he observed.

This year, he said, is the year of the health and care worker.

“Let’s show our respect and appreciation for health workers by protecting each other and vaccinating all health workers everywhere now,” he indicated.

“Remember, ending this pandemic is one of humanity's great races, and whether we like it or not, we will win or lose this race together,” he noted.

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