The WHO is accusing some rich countries of monopolizing Covid-19 vaccine doses at the expense of less privileged countries. A program called Covax has been set up by the WHO to allow poorer countries to get access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The head of the WHO accused some rich countries of undermining the vaccine distribution program, COVAX, which is aimed particularly at disadvantaged countries, by continuing to approach manufacturers directly to gain access to more doses. “Some wealthy countries are currently approaching manufacturers to gain access to additional vaccine doses, which is affecting Covax’s contracts,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus the head of the WHO said at a joint press conference via video conference with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The number of doses allocated to Covax has been reduced as a result,” he added.
Preventing rich countries from undermining COVAX
The COVAX program was created to try to prevent rich countries from monopolizing all the doses of vaccines that are still being produced in quantities too small to meet global demand. The COVAX system includes a financing mechanism to ensure that 92 low- and middle-income economies have access to the vaccines. But due to vaccine shortages, the first deliveries to poor countries are not expected to start until later this month, when vaccination campaigns in many rich countries have already started in late 2020.
In response to a question about the significant commitments by the United States, the European Union, and Germany to significantly increase their contributions to COVAX, the head of the WHO expressed frustration.
“Having the money means nothing if we can’t use it to buy vaccines,” he said. “We can only supply vaccines to COVAX member countries if the rich countries cooperate by fulfilling the Covax contracts,” he urged those countries, which he did not name, to ensure that their behavior does not undermine the distribution system overseen by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), among others. “But I don’t think they are asking themselves that question,” he added.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier also called for greater vaccine distribution, for moral reasons but also because it is in everyone’s interest to eradicate the virus quickly, to prevent the sometimes more dangerous variants from continuing to flourish everywhere. But, he acknowledged, “governments have first and foremost an obligation to their populations.”
Dr. Tedros supported the idea of suspending intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines so that production could be rapidly scaled up. A proposal along these lines has been under discussion at the World Trade Organization since last year but has been met with fierce resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and some of the major countries where they are based.
He has also called on manufacturers who are not producing their own COVID-19 vaccine to make their production capacity available to competitors, along the lines of an initiative by the French company Sanofi. “Non-exclusive licenses would be an additional way” to produce more vaccines faster, he explained, acknowledging that as long as there were shortages, people would remain deaf to the call to share vaccines with the broader international community.
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