WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday thanked India and South Africa for their initiative at the world body to temporarily waive some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules on Covid-19 products. In his opening remarks to the World Health Assembly, World Health Organisation Director-General Ghebreyesus called on nations to share doses through COVAX and underlined the need to scale-up manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines.
Covid Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) is an international initiative aimed at equitable access to vaccines. He said the bottom line is that "we need a lot more doses, we need them fast, and we must leave no stone unturned to get them.
While noting that several manufacturers have said they have capacity to produce vaccines if the originator companies are willing to share licenses, technology and know-how, he voiced concern that he finds it difficult to understand why this has not happened yet. "I thank India and South Africa for their initiative at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive intellectual property protections for Covid-19 products, and I thank those countries that are supporting these efforts, he said.
India had worked with South Africa and other partners in the WTO to seek a relaxation in the norms of the TRIPS agreement to ensure quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. In a major policy change earlier this month, the Biden administration backed the initiative by India and South Africa at the WTO to temporarily waive patent rules on Covid-19 vaccines, seen as a breakthrough in the global fight against the deadly pandemic by potentially expanding the supply of the vaccines and more affordable doses for less wealthy nations. The WHO chief said that the ongoing vaccine crisis is a scandalous inequity" that is perpetuating the pandemic.
More than 75 per cent of all vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries. There is no diplomatic way to say it: a small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world's vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world. Ghebreyesus noted that the number of doses administered globally so far would have been enough to cover all health workers and older people, if they had been distributed equitably. We could have been in a much better situation.
I understand that every government has a duty to protect its own people. I understand that every government wants to vaccinate its entire population… But right now, there is not enough supply. Countries that vaccinate children and other low-risk groups now do so at the expense of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries. That's the reality, he said. Lamenting that doses available to COVAX remain vastly inadequate, he stressed that the global vaccine distribution alliance works. We have shipped every single one of the 72 million doses we have been able to get our hands on so far to 125 countries and economies. But those doses are sufficient for barely 1 per cent of the combined population of those countries, he said.
Ghebreyesus called on Member States to support a massive push to vaccinate at least 10 percent of the population of every country by September, and a drive to December to achieve the goal of vaccinating at least 30 percent by the end of the year. This is crucial to stop severe disease and death, keep our health workers safe and reopen our societies and economies.