International WHO chief gives final deadline for countries to join global vaccine pact

WHO chief gives final deadline for countries to join global vaccine pact

The aim of COVAX is to develop, produce and bring equitable access of the Covid-19 vaccine to every nation, especially developing countries that have no other access to vaccine hopefuls

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Geneva/Manila — World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus issued a last-minute call on Tuesday (Aug 18) for wealthier countries to join the global vaccine pact known as COVAX by the Aug 31 deadline.

Dr Ghebreyesus wrote a letter to the 194 member states of WHO, requesting for their participation in the ongoing efforts of COVAX.

The aim of COVAX is to develop, produce and bring equitable access of the Covid-19 vaccine to every nation, especially developing countries that have no other access to vaccine hopefuls.

Dr Ghebreyesus said that should nations choose to hoard possible COVID-19 vaccines and not give access to other countries, it will just compound the pandemic.

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The WHO chief felt the need to push for a number of nations to join the COVAX coalition as Britain, Switzerland, the European Union, and the United States are already in talks with companies that are presently developing vaccines. Meanwhile, Russia and China are developing their own vaccines as well, and should they come up with a viable vaccine, he is fearful that they can hinder global efforts.

Dr Ghebreyesus explained: “We need to prevent vaccine nationalism. Sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest.” Yet the European Commission has pressed the EU to circumvent the WHO’s COVAX call, worried that it will be too costly and too slow.

As of today (Aug 19) at 9:16 GMT, the global tally has already reached 22,325,345 positive coronavirus cases and 784,754 deaths so far, and the numbers continue to rise.

Meanwhile, according to WHO, the COVAX facility has managed to gain interest from 92 of the poorer countries and 80 of the wealthier ones so far that will help fund the initiative, Singapore included.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in a virtual summit last June, “The Covid-19 pandemic demands a united and concerted response by all nations. I hope that this summit will help focus our minds and resources, and forge partnerships to promote ‘vaccine multilateralism.’

However, these numbers have not changed over the past month.

Although some countries are waiting for the Aug 31 deadline to commit, the facility’s terms have not yet been finalised, said WHO’s lead Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, Dr Bruce Aylward.

“We are not twisting arms for people to join. We’ve had more and more discussions with a broader and broader group of players … to work through what might be the barriers to collaborating – issues around price, issues around timing, issues around national expectations,” said Dr Aylward.

Source: Screenshot from YouTube / Sky News

Currently, there are more than 150 vaccines in different countries already in development, and two dozen of those are in human studies, while a few are considered to be in their late stages of trial.

The WHO explained that should countries choose to sign bilateral deals by joining COVAX, they can “boost their odds” of success in doing so.

Another senior WHO official, Dr Mariaangela Simao, iterated: “Which one will be the candidate that will be successful, we don’t know yet. By joining the facility at the same time that you do bilateral deals, you’re actually betting on a larger number of vaccine candidates.”

Currently, COVAX covers at least nine vaccine candidates. /TISG

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