South Africa: WHO Urges Countries to Sign Covid-19 Vaccine Pact

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation on December 3, 2020.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to desist from the nationalisation of COVID-19 vaccines and has requested that they join a vaccine pact.

The call from WHO comes as countries across the world race to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

Following a letter to all member states requesting them to join the vaccine arm of the Act-Accelerator, WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus announced that 172 countries have signed up to COVAX Global Vaccines Facility.

The facility is a critical mechanism for joint procurement and pooling risk across multiple vaccines so that whatever vaccine is proven to be safe and effective - all countries within the facility will be able to access them.

The facility has both the largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio in the world.

"New research outlines that global competition for vaccine doses could lead to prices spiking exponentially in comparison to a collaborative effort such as the COVAX Facility.

"It would also lead to a prolonged pandemic as only a small number of countries would get most of the supply. Vaccine nationalism only helps the virus," said Ghebreyesus.

Presently, there are nine vaccines that are part of this dynamic portfolio; which is constantly being reviewed and optimised to ensure access to the best possible range of products.

"Even now discussions are ongoing with four more producers and a further nine vaccines are currently under evaluation for the longer term," said Ghebreyesus.

The success of the COVAX Facility hinges not only on countries signing up to it, but also filling key funding gaps for both the research and development work and to support lower-income economies within the facility.

"Investing in the COVAX Facility is the fastest way to end this pandemic and ensure a sustainable economic recovery," said the WHO DG.

Through the allocation framework, COVAX will ensure that low-, middle- and high-income countries all receive the vaccine in a timely way as soon as there is supply of a safe and effective vaccine.

Initially, when there will be limited supply, WHO said those at highest risk around the world will receive the vaccine.

This includes health workers, as they are on the frontlines in this pandemic and critical to saving lives and stabilising the overall health system.

It also includes people over 65 years old and those with certain diseases that put them at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

As supply increases, the next stage of the vaccine rollout would be expanded based on an assessment of each country's vulnerability to the virus.

"A number of vaccines are now in the final stage of clinical trials and we all hope we will have multiple successful candidates that are both safe and effective.

"In order to be able to secure enough doses to rollout the vaccines, the next step for the partnership is for countries to make binding commitments in support of the COVAX Facility," said Ghebreyesus.

While funds have already been committed towards the COVAX Facility, WHO said more is urgently needed to continue to move the portfolio forward.

The goal of the mechanism is to deliver at least two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines by the end of 2021.

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