The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is in countries self-interest to shun vaccine nationalism and work toward the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, noting that people must come first over short-term profits.
WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said this at the first COVID-19 news conference for the year at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
Vaccine nationalism is when a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are made available in other countries.
This is done through pre-purchase agreements between a government and a vaccine manufacturer.
In a series of tweets posted on the UN health agency Twitter account @WHO, Ghebreyesus also urged all governments to be committed to equitable distribution of the vaccine.
“I urge all governments to work together and live up to their commitments to equitable distribution globally and all pharmaceutical groups to boost supply as quickly as possible and to fully participate in COVAX,’’ he said.
According to him, vaccination of health workers against COVID-19 and those at high risk of serious disease is the fastest way to stabilise health systems.
“Vaccinating health workers and those at high risk of serious disease is the fastest way to stablise health systems, ensure all essential health services are up and running and that a truly global economic recovery can take place.
“We owe it morally to health workers everywhere who have been fighting this pandemic around the clock for the best part of a year to vaccinate them all as soon as possible.’’
The WHO chief, however, said that it was important to remember that COVID-19 was just one of a number of major disease outbreaks facing communities across the world.
Mr Ghebreyesus said that WHO was also “picking up and analysing hundreds of potential signals every week”, concerning other life-threatening illnesses.
But he made it clear that COVID-19 remained “a major public health crisis”, while assuring that WHO is “working day and night” to accelerate science, provide solutions on the ground and build global solidarity.
“This is as important for tackling the pandemic as it is for getting essential services back up and running again,” he said.
While pointing out that WHO’s work stretches “far beyond emergencies”, the UN official explained that its operations encompass improving “human health in all its aspects from birth to old age”.
He elaborated on the breadth of the agency’s activities – from keeping mothers and babies alive during childbirth to tackling mental health and controlling HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
“We have learned a lot in 2020, not least that health is an investment in overall development critical for thriving economies and a key pillar of national security.”
According to him, integrated primary healthcare systems are imperative to prevent, screen and treat infectious and non-communicable diseases.
Citing the pandemic, Mr Ghebreyesus said that infectious viruses put those with underlying conditions “at highest risk of dying”, and that countries with high numbers of people with health conditions put “extra stress on the health system”.
He maintained that health cannot be “an afterthought when we have an emergency” and underscored the need to “invest in preparedness and surveillance to stop the next pandemic”.
In addition, he said “at the dawn of 2021, scientists and public health experts from inside and outside WHO are continuing to break down the latest data and put forward solutions to `build back greener and stronger health systems’.
“My one hope is that there’s less politicking about health in the year ahead.”
He noted that the scientific community has “set a new standard for vaccine development”, and urged the international community to set a new standard for access.
On December 31, 2020, the WHO cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use and on Monday, rollout of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine developed by Oxford University began in the United Kingdom.
With 190 “countries and economies” backing the COVAX international vaccines-for-all initiative, the WHO director-general wanted to see all manufacturers quickly channel supplies there to enable rollouts to protect high-risk people globally.
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