WHO Director-General: "Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time"

The summit – held in virtual format on the theme, “A Vaccine for All” - brought together senior officials from the UN, government, business, the scientific community and civil society, who explored ways to guarantee equal access to the vaccine as a global public good, and to strengthen countries' readiness for its distribution.

“Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization told the gathering in opening remarks. “And we are failing.”

Driving that point home, he said that of the 832 million vaccine doses administered, 82 per cent have gone to high or upper middle-income countries, while only 0.2 per cent have been sent to their low-income peers. In high-income countries alone, one in four people have received a vaccine, a ratio that drops precipitously to 1 in 500 in poorer countries.

Rapidly spreading variants, the inconsistent use and premature easing of public health measures, fatigue with social restrictions and the “dramatic” inequity in vaccine coverage; all have led to an alarming spike in new cases and deaths, he said.

“This is a time for partnership, not patronage”, he stressed. “We have the tools to end this pandemic.” The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, created by WHO and its partners, along with the COVAX Facility, can prevent mistakes of the past - when the world 40 years ago was slow to deploy lifesaving antiretrovirals to poor countries during the HIV and AIDS crisis.

Today, he said that while COVAX has distributed 40 million doses to 100 countries, this is nowhere near enough. WHO had expected to distribute 100 million doses by now. Some countries have received nothing, none have received enough - and some are not receiving second-round allocation on time. “The problem is not getting vaccines out of COVAX,” he assured. “The problem is getting them in.”

WHO is working with the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to ramp up production and supply, he said. A COVAX manufacturing task force has been formed, and promisingly, a New Partnership for African Manufacturing will be formed by the African Union. It aims to build five vaccine production hubs on the continent, starting with three mRNA facilities in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa. WHO is also developing regional regulatory capacity through the African Medicines Agency.

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