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WHO chief implores nations to avoid vaccine nationalism

Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Picture byline:  Jacoline Schoonees

Director general urges countries to join equal access Covid-19 vaccine initiative by 31 August

The director general of the World Health Organization has implored countries around the world to join a global initiative on equal access to Covid-19 vaccines, warning that “we need to prevent vaccine nationalism”.

“No one country has access to research and development, manufacturing and all the supply chain for all essential medicines and materials,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a speech on 18 August, adding that countries which requisitioned medical supplies during the early spread of Covid-19 “exacerbated the pandemic”.

“It’s critical that countries don’t repeat the same mistakes,” said Adhanom. Writing to the 194 member states of the WHO, he urged countries to join the Covax initiative, which aims to deliver two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 with a commitment to equitable access to vaccines for all countries participating.

In July, the global vaccine partnership Gavi, which is co-leading Covax with the WHO, said 75 countries had expressed interest in contributing to the initiative, which would support access to vaccines for a further 92 low and middle-income countries. How many of those 75 countries follow through and sign up to Covax remains to be seen, with a 31 August deadline approaching for financial commitments.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an international partnership at the forefront of Covid-19 vaccine development and the third partner in Covax, estimates that $2.1 billion is needed to fund vaccine R&D for three vaccines to be made available worldwide. Cepi is hopeful that its portfolio of 19 vaccine candidates will provide an incentive for countries to join Covax.

Many countries are hedging their bets and making bilateral deals with vaccine developers, while the European Union has launched its own vaccine strategy for its member states. The United States alone has made deals worth up to $10 billion with vaccine manufacturers to scale up and supply doses through its national initiative, and China is pressing ahead with multiple candidates in large-scale, phase-3 clinical trials.

“As we accelerate the science, solidarity is needed to provide a joint solution to the pandemic,” Adhanom said, adding that Covax is critical for “pooling risk across multiple vaccines”.