414 views | Akanimo Sampson | March 1, 2021
In order to allow for COVID-19 vaccinations, UN Security Council has unanimously passed a resolution calling on all member states to support a “sustained humanitarian pause” to local conflicts.
World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made this development known, argues that more could be done.
Under the joint UN-led COVAX initiative for fair access to coronavirus-beating jabs, key workers and other vulnerable people in 145 countries are to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the first half of this year.
The aim is to help governments to prepare their vaccine distribution programmes, by providing details about which vaccine they can expect to receive, between now and the end of June.
UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – which plays a key role in immunisation campaigns worldwide – welcomed the development, describing COVAX as the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation ever mounted.
“We must get this right”, said Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Our country offices will support governments as they move forward with this first wave to ensure that they are ready to receive the vaccines that require ultra-cold chain (storage).
“This includes ensuring that health workers are fully trained in how to store and handle the vaccines…Many of these doses will go to health workers in urban areas who are at the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 infections.”
Some 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which requires ultra-cold chain storage, are to be delivered to 18 countries in the first quarter of the year, out of an agreed total of 40 million.
An additional 336 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab are to be lined up for dispatch to nearly all countries that have signed up to the COVAX scheme, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe – once it has been approved for use by the UN health agency.
The total number of doses will cover, on average, 3.3 per cent of the population of the countries benefiting from the scheme.
This will make it possible for governments to protect their most vulnerable citizens – such as front-line health care workers, WHO said, along with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, UNICEF chief Ms Fore noted that the agency had been getting ready by stockpiling half a billion syringes and working with airlines, governments and other partners to iron out potential supply hiccups.
“This work has already begun”, she said. “For example, Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the countries that will be an early recipient of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold chain storage.
UNICEF is providing Bosnia and Herzegovina with eight refrigerators that will be able to store vaccines in temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius. The first two refrigerators recently arrived…The rest will follow as soon as possible.”
In a related development on Wednesday, Ms. Fore also announced the signing of a deal securing 1.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for around 100 countries.
The agreement with the Serum Institute of India is for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine and the Novavax vaccine, both of which have yet to receive Emergency Use Listing by the WHO.
Low and middle income countries will pay approximately $3 per dose, Ms. Fore said. “This is great value for COVAX donors and a strong demonstration of one of the fundamental principles of COVAX – that by pooling our resources we can negotiate in bulk for the best possible deals.”
In the mean time, while welcoming the historic UN resolution and upholding the importance of vaccine equity, he said that “concrete steps should be taken” to waive intellectual property rights to increase vaccine production “and get rid of this virus as soon as possible”.
“The virus has taken the whole world hostage”, Tedros said. “The UN Security Council can do it, if there is political will”.
The Council resolution calls for review of specific cases raised by the UN, where access to vaccinations is being hampered and to “consider what further measures may be necessary to ensure such impediments are removed and hostilities paused.”
Tedros noted that Côte d’Ivoire had received its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine with more to be shipped to other countries in the days and weeks ahead – with the goal of getting vaccination underway in all countries within the first 100 days of the year.
Crediting the UN-led vaccine initiative COVAX, he said that fragile progress has been made, but that vaccine supplies and distributions must be accelerated.
However, he warned against bilateral deals with manufacturers producing vaccines that COVAX is counting on.
“I understand full well that all governments have an obligation to protect their own people. But the best way to do that is by suppressing the virus everywhere at the same time”, underscored the WHO chief.
“Now is the time to use every tool to scale up production, including licensing and technology transfer, and where necessary, intellectual property waivers. If not now, then when?”, he added.
Yemen: ‘Opportunity for peace’
In a bid for more funding, the WHO chief said that Yemen remained the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with more than 20 million people desperately needing assistance. Some five million are at risk of famine, while half a million children under-five risk death without urgent treatment and the continuing spectre of COVID-19.
“This current crisis comes at a time, after years of conflict, when there is now a real opportunity for peace in Yemen. We have to act on it”, he said, urging donors to generously support the 2021 Response Plan for $3.85 billion during a High-Level Pledging Event next Monday.
On Wednesday, WHO officially launched its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) for 2021.
It builds on achievements, focuses on new challenges, such as mitigating risks related to new variants, and considers the road towards the safe, equitable and effective delivery of diagnostics and vaccines as part of the overall strategy to successfully tackle the pandemic, according to the WHO chief.
“The 2021 SPRP outlines how WHO will support countries in meeting these objectives, and the resources we need to do it”, he said.
Proud son of Ethiopia
During a separate ceremony, Tedros said he was “deeply humbled” to receive the African Person of the Year award.
“I do not accept this award only on my own behalf, but on behalf of my colleagues at WHO, who work every day, sometimes in difficult and dangerous situations, to protect and promote the health of Africa’s people, and the world’s”, he said.