Whole World Must Benefit from Covid-19 Vaccine, Says WHO Chief after Pfizer Announcement

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The head of the World Health Organization hailed the rapid progress towards a Covid-19 vaccine but insisted Friday that every country had to reap the benefits.

"A vaccine will be a vital tool for controlling the pandemic, and we're encouraged by the preliminary results of clinical trials released this week," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, in closing the WHO's annual assembly.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced Monday that their candidate vaccine had proven 90 percent effective in ongoing final phase trials involving more than 40,000 people, less than a year after the novel coronavirus emerged in China.

"Never in history has vaccine research progressed so quickly. We must apply the same urgency and innovation to ensuring that all countries benefit from this scientific achievement," said Tedros.

The coronavirus has killed nearly 1.3 million people while more than 52.7 million cases have been registered, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

However, the tallies probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.

Shared pathogens lab plan

Tedros said the pandemic had shown there was an urgent need for "a globally-agreed system for sharing pathogen materials and clinical samples", to facilitate the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics as "global public goods".

He said the system could not wait for bilateral agreements that could take years to negotiate.

"We are proposing a new approach that would include a repository for materials housed by WHO in a secure Swiss facility; an agreement that sharing materials into this repository is voluntary; that WHO can facilitate the transfer and use of the materials; and a set of criteria under which WHO would distribute them," said Tedros.

The UN health agency's director-general thanked Thailand and Italy for offering to provide materials and pioneer the new approach, and Switzerland for offering a laboratory.

Besides discussing the pandemic, member states at the WHO assembly agreed on a new plan to defeat meningitis by 2030; increased action on epilepsy and other neurological disorders; and a strategy to speed up the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.