World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: FABRICE COFFRINI/REUTERS
World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: FABRICE COFFRINI/REUTERS

Geneva  — The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) called on Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers to make shots available to the Covax vaccine-sharing facility earlier than planned and called on rich nations to share doses to end “vaccine apartheid”. 

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world has reached a situation of “vaccine apartheid” that is no longer just at risk of that status. “The big problem is a lack of sharing. So the solution is more sharing,” he told a virtual Paris Peace Forum event on Monday. 

He also  welcomed US President Joe Biden’s announcement that the US will send at least 20-million more vaccine doses abroad by the end of June, marking the first time the US is sharing vaccines authorised for domestic use.

Biden said on Monday he would export 20-million doses of vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, in addition to 60-million AstraZeneca doses he had already planned to give to other countries. 

Covax, which supplies doses to poorer countries, relies heavily on India’s Serum Institute's exports of the AstraZeneca shot but many of these are instead being used by the country as it battles a huge second wave of infections.

“While we appreciate the work of AstraZeneca who have been steadily increasing the speed and volume of their deliveries, we need other manufacturers to follow suit,” Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing.

Specifically, he asked Pfizer to bring forward deliveries of about 40-million doses in the second half of the year and asked Moderna to make doses pledged for 2022 available in 2021.

“We need doses right now and call on them to bring forward deliveries as soon as possible,” he said.

The head of Unicef on Monday also asked wealthy G7 countries ahead of a summit in June to donate supplies as an emergency measure to make up the shortfall estimated at 140-million doses by end-May.

G7 member France has already given some AstraZeneca shots to Covax.

WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward defended Covax’s work so far in providing 65-million doses to 120 countries, calling it a success. But wealthy countries need to donate more vaccines now they have vaccinated their most vulnerable populations, he said.

“We are moving in the right direction. We are not moving there fast enough and we are not moving there at large enough volumes,” he said.



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