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The ‘clear problem’ with the global vaccine rollout, according to the WHO

Emily Cleary
·4-min read
Doctor drawing up Covid-19 vaccine from glass phial bottle and filling syringe injection for vaccination. Close up of hand wearing protective disposable gloves in lab and holding a bottle of vaccination drugs. Hand with blue surgical gloves taking sars-coV-2 vaccine dose from vial with syringe: prevention and immunization concept.
A global vaccine rollout could leave the most vulnerable countries with no supplies, the head of WHO has suggested (Getty)

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that rich companies buying up COVID vaccine supplies is a "clear problem" for the global fight against coronavirus.

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said that of the 42 countries rolling out a vaccine so far, 36 are high-income countries and six are middle-income countries.

He said: "So there’s a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet."

Ghebreyesus said that by buying up the vaccines and limiting supply, the wealthiest countries were “bumping up” the cost for poorer nations.

“This potentially bumps up the price for everyone and means high-risk people in the poorest and most marginalized countries don’t get the vaccine,” he said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) attends a session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak response of the WHO Executive Board in Geneva, Switzerland, October 5, 2020.  Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that a worldwide coronavirus vaccine rollout could leave less wealthy countries without supplies (Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via Reuters)

“And some companies and countries have not submitted critical data, which we need to issue Emergency Use Listings, which blocks the whole system of procurement and delivery.

“Vaccine nationalism hurts us all and is self-defeating.”

WHO has launched the COVAX initiative, aimed at ensuring that all countries have “fair and equitable access” to COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX is a voluntary arrangement that enables countries to pool their resources and risk by collectively investing in vaccine candidates while developing the political and logistical infrastructure needed for vaccine distribution.

The main priority of the initiative is to ensure that vaccines financed through the it will be allocated in a transparent and coordinated manner across the globe.

Ghebreyesus said: Going forward, I want to see manufacturers prioritise supply and rollout through COVAX.

“I urge countries that have contracted more vaccines than they will need, and are controlling the global supply, to also donate and release them to COVAX immediately, which is ready today to rollout quickly.

HYDE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 08: People sit in their cars as they are administered the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination centre at Hyde Leisure Centre on January 08, 2021 in Hyde, England. The coronavirus drive-through vaccine centre is believed to be the first in the world. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Vaccination centre such as this drive-through in Hyde, Greater Manchester, have been set up across the UK as part of a huge immunisation programme to stem the spread of coronoavirus (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

“And I urge countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX.

“No country is exceptional and should cut the queue and vaccinate all their population while some remain with no supply of the vaccine.

“Science has delivered, let’s not waste the opportunity to protect lives of those most at risk and ensure all economies have a fair shot at recovery.”

Under the COVAX plan, vaccine doses would initially be allocated to participating countries in proportion to their population size. Only after each country receives vaccine doses for 20% of its population would countries’ covid risk profiles be considered in a subsequent phase of vaccine distribution.

However, countries participating in COVAX are also permitted to pursue bilateral contracts with vaccine manufacturers, like the one between the UK and Pfizer-BioNTech.

Many high income ,and even middle income countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam, have secured vaccine supplies through bilateral agreements, prompting Ghebreyesus to urge nations to consider the bigger picture.

The UK has administered the fourth highest number of coronavirus vaccines in the world, so far (Our World in Data)
COVID vaccine doses administered per 100 people in countries that have already received supplies (Our World in Data)

His comments came as Britain approved a third vaccine for use in its nationwide immunisation programme.

Watch: Moderna jab approved for use in Britain

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use, the health ministry said.

The Pfizer/BioNTech jab and one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca are already being administered.

Britain now has 17 million doses of Moderna's vaccine on order.

Boris Johnson has said that he wants everyone in the "top four priority groups" to have been offered a first dose of one of the vaccines by the middle of February, amounting to 13 million people.

Top of the priority list are people who live and work in care homes, followed by people over the age of 80 and frontline health and social care workers - including NHS staff.

Next on the list are people over the age 75, and the fourth group are people aged 70 and those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

This last group - who are the same as those who have been advised to shield - includes people such as organ transplant recipients and cancer patients.

Johnson said that if this was achieved, it could mean a lifting of many restrictions in the UK.

"If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus,” he told a Downing Street press conference on Monday.

"And of course that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we've endured for so long."

Watch: What is long COVID?

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