In the race to end the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said at a virtual medical conference on Thursday that “a vaccine, by itself, is not enough.”
Mr Guterres said in a video message to the Global Vaccine Summit, that there is a need for global solidarity to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access to the vaccine.
The Global Vaccine Summit, hosted virtually by the UK government, was attended by many world leaders including the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, King of Jordan, Abdullah bin Al Hussein and Ethiopia President Sahle-Work Zewde.
The summit was convened to find and fund collective solutions for COVID-19-related vaccines and to strengthen routine immunisation commitments and resources for other preventable diseases.
The summit is Gavi, the vaccine alliance’s third pledging conference, and follows the successful Berlin summit in January 2015.The summit marks 20 years since Gavi was founded.
COVID-19 is now the greatest public health crisis of the generation and it has moved vaccines to the top of the global agenda
Mr Guterres said vaccines are “the most important public health intervention in history.”
He credited the “lifesaving miracle” of vaccinations, for saving tens of millions of lives each year, eradicating smallpox and preventing outbreaks of diseases like measles, rubella and tetanus.
He maintained that a COVID-19 vaccine must be seen as “a global public good – a people’s vaccine.”
He lauded the “incredible work” of GAVI, the vaccine alliance, and its partners in allowing people of all ages and income levels throughout the world to access vaccines.
“The United Nations is proud to be part of this effort towards universal health coverage”, he said, reiterating its commitment to being part of the next phase, “because there is still much work to do.”
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation welcomed the funding commitments made at the summit.
The new pledges will enable Gavi to protect the next generation and reduce disease inequality by reaching an additional 300 million children with vaccines by 2025.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said vaccines only realise their true power when they are deployed to protect the poorest and most vulnerable.
“We join Gavi in celebrating the collective success of this great Alliance. These pledges are not just an investment in the Alliance of which we are a very proud partner; they are an advance on our shared vision of a healthier, safer and fairer world.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is unravelling many of the gains we have made, with vaccination campaigns for polio, cholera, measles, diphtheria, and meningitis.”
“Thanks to vaccines, hundreds of millions of deaths have been prevented. Polio has been pushed to the brink of eradication, and just in the past few years new vaccines have become available for Ebola and malaria,”
Mr Ghebreyesus said the bold funding commitments mean that the Gavi Alliance will be better able to maintain immunisation in lower-income countries, mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will also help strengthen health systems.
The backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic is a sobering reminder of how much individual health depends on collective health and the critical role that vaccines play in keeping the global population safe and healthy.
Mr Guterres lamented that about 20 million children miss their full complement of vaccines and one-in-five have received no vaccines at all.
He said under the shadow of COVID-19, “their plight is even more desperate”.
He painted a picture of halted immunisation campaigns and broadening gaps in global vaccine delivery.
The Secretary-General appealed for three main commitments, beginning with finding safe ways to continue delivering vaccinations, “even as COVID-19 spreads”.
Secondly, he asked that vaccine-delivery networks be used to deliver a range of other primary health services.
And finally, when the COVID-19 vaccine does become available, it should reach everyone, he said.
“Disease knows no borders, that is why a fully funded GAVI will be critical to ensure we continue to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),”he said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Together, we have replenished this Alliance and here comes the number you’ve been waiting for: we have secured a fantastic $ 8.8 billion for GAVI’s vital work over the next five years”
The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said vaccines work, and 86 per cent of the world’s children have been reached by routine immunization.
“In the midst of a global pandemic it has never been more important to build capacity to respond to disease outbreaks and work with organizations to deliver vaccines”.
The King of Jordan, Abdullah bin Al Hussein, called guaranteed equal access “not only the moral and just approach, it is also in the interest of the entire international community… It is our responsibility as an international community to make sure the most vulnerable are not left behind”.
Egypt’s President, Abdel al-Sisi, maintained that it was “pivotal” not to allow the pandemic to affect the importance of fighting other infectious diseases or “to exert collective efforts to resume immunization campaigns against vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Ethiopia President, Sahle-Work Zewde, underscored the importance of inoculations by saying that her country had boosted routine immunisation from 30 per cent in 2000, to 72 per cent today, spelling out that “since 2018, 1.1 million girls have been spared from the scourge of cervical cancer due to the introduction of the HPV vaccine”.