WHO cautions against ‘vaccine nationalism’, promotes global solution to pandemic

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By Neeraj Nanda

MELBOURNE, 19 August 2020: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has cautioned the global community against ‘vaccine nationalism’. The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is making news each day, as its research and development at about 170 labs is gathering pace. The WHO has set up the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility for joint procurement and pooling risk across multiple vaccines.

The WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 on 18 August 2020, rightly says, “While there is a wish amongst leaders to protect their own people first, the response to this pandemic has to be collective.

This is not charity, we have learned the hard way that the fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest risk populations everywhere, rather than the entire populations of just some countries.

Sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest.

No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

He further says, ” No one country has access to research and development, manufacturing and all the supply chain for all essential medicines and materials.

And if we can work together, we can ensure that all essential workers are protected and proven treatments like dexamethasone are available to those who need them.”

As and when a successful vaccine is identified WHO’s strategic advisory group will provide recommendations for their appropriate and fair use.

In phase 1, doses will be allocated proportionally to all participating countries simultaneously to reduce overall risk.

In phase 2, consideration will be given to countries in relation to threat and vulnerability.

Front line workers in health and social care settings are prioritized as they are essential to treat and protect the population and come in close contact with high-mortality risk groups.

Initial data has shown that adults over 65 years old and those with certain comorbidities are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19.

But any vaccine will usher in many challenges. For example, vaccine developed in one country may need to be filled in vials with stoppers that are produced in another, using materials for the high-grade glass that is only available from yet another country.

“We will need to quickly manufacture billions of doses to reach all those who need the vaccine, which means hundreds of millions of glass vials and ways to transport them effectively, says the WHO DG.

Herein comes the importance of the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility as it is the critical mechanism for joint procurement and pooling risk across multiple vaccines. The WHO is encouraging countries to join the facility.

Answering a question about the COVAX Facility at a media conference (on 18 August 2020), Dr. Bruce Aylward. Senior Advisor to DG WHO said, ” 92 countries have joined the COVAX Facility and another 80 are in it who are self – financing the vaccine development. This covers about 70 % of the world population.”

Any country wanting to join the COVAX Facility has to do it by 31 August 2020.

“Like an orchestra, we need all instruments to be played in harmony to create music that everyone enjoys.

One or two instruments playing by themselves just won’t suffice when the world is waiting and listening intently, ” says the WHO DG.

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