WHO warns of “catastrophic moral failure” due to lack of access to vaccines in poor countries

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticizes the “selfish” attitude of the richest countries towards COVID-19 vaccines and the greed of pharmaceutical companies, who prefer to obtain licenses in rich countries, where they make more profits, to submit dossiers for global approval within the World Health Organization.

During a speech before the executive committee of the WHO that meets these days – virtually due to the pandemic – the head of the WHO has warned that the world faces a “catastrophic moral failure” if, as up to now, the countries The rich monopolize the supply of vaccines against the new coronavirus to the detriment of poor countries.

“I have to be frank. The world is on the brink of catastrophic moral failure, and the price of that failure will be paid in lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” said the director general of the World Organization of the Health.

In his speech Tedros pointed to the “selfish” attitude of rich countries and harshly criticized vaccine manufacturers for seeking regulatory approval in rich countries rather than submitting their data to WHO to obtain a global green light for the use of the vaccine.

Access to vaccines for all countries, at risk

Convinced that the promise of equitable global access to coronavirus vaccines is now in jeopardy, the WHO chief noted that 39 million doses of coronavirus vaccines had already been administered in at least 49 rich countries.

At the same time, “only 25 doses have been administered in one of the lowest-income countries. Not 25 million, not 25,000, only 25,” he lamented.

“Vaccines are the arm shot that we all need, literally and figuratively,” Tedros said. “But now we face the real danger that even when vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the haves and the have-nots.”

Tedros said that while some countries continue to make speeches in favor of equitable access to vaccines, they are actually prioritizing their own deals with manufacturers, raising prices and looking for shortcuts to bypass waiting lists for supplies.

By way of comparison, he pointed out that in all of 2020, 44 agreements have been reached between these countries and the manufacturers, while since the beginning of this year, 12 have already been signed.

“The situation is compounded by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where the benefits are greatest, rather than submitting full dossiers to the WHO,” he said.

“This selfish approach not only endangers the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, it is also doomed to failure,” he warned. “These actions will only prolong the pandemic and our suffering, as well as the restrictions necessary to contain it,” said Mr. Tedros.

The warehouses of the Covax program, empty

Behind this tirade is also frustration at the slowness with which the international program to distribute vaccines among the poorest countries is advancing.

WHO and the Alliance for Vaccination (Gavi) have established the Covax mechanism to distribute Covax vaccines to poor countries, but the system is threatened by the tendency of rich countries to go each on their own and by the lack of financing.

As of December, the program had raised $ 2.4 billion from donations but needs $ 4.6 billion more in 2021. At the moment, only the makers of Johnson & Johnson’s AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccines have committed to the Serum Institute of India and with Sanofi. It has also signed tentative agreements with other “promising vaccines.” In total, 2 billion doses have been secured according to the program’s communication.

Another pillar would be the shipment of doses by rich countries, however at the moment it seems a distant option, when the main economies continue to suffer supply problems, especially in Europe where Pfizer has canceled some shipments to restructure its production chain.

WHO’s goal is to deliver doses to 20% of the population of the countries participating in Covax by the end of the year. The UN agency expects to ship the first vaccines in late January or February.

However, the COVAX program and the Vaccination Alliance have also received criticism, particularly from Europe. Austrian Council Member Dr. Clement Martin Auer criticized the program’s slowness and inability to close contracts: “In the European Union we were skeptical that GAVI-COVAX had the means and capabilities to fulfill its tasks and negotiate the necessary contracts. and ensuring the needs of our citizens, “Auer said, adding that COVAX management had” rejected “the proposals negotiated by GAVI and the EU.

He stressed that the EU is the largest single donor to the program and has managed to secure vaccines for its 450 million citizens.

The emergence of more contagious variants makes the equitable distribution and administration of vaccines even more essential. The WHO Emergency Committee met urgently last Friday to discuss the problem of the new variants and called for greater international coordination.

“There will be enough vaccines for everyone,” he said, adding that it is normal for governments to give priority to health workers and older people in his country but “it is not fair that the youngest and healthiest adults in rich countries are vaccinated before workers. of health and the elderly in the poorest countries “, lamented the director general.

The new coronavirus has killed more than 2 million people according to an unofficial count by the AFP agency, which is likely much lower than the true number, since China reported the first case in December 2019.