The World Health Organization has urged the UN Security Council to back up its call for increased vaccine supply to poorer nations with concrete action to ensure production gets ramped up.
The Security Council gave unanimous approval Friday to a resolution calling for improved access to COVID-19 vaccines in conflict-hit or impoverished countries.
But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, said that while their vote was all well and good, they ought to address “the elephant in the room” stymying the availability of doses for poorer nations.
“I hope we will take the right choices and in addition to the voting, we take concrete action,” Tedros told a press conference in Geneva.
He called for countries to agree to waive the intellectual property (IP) rights on vaccines so many more manufacturers can start rolling doses off their production lines.
The idea is fiercely opposed by many richer countries and the pharmaceutical industry.
“I’m glad the UN Security Council has voted in favor of vaccine equity,” said Tedros.
“At the same time, if we’re going to take practical solutions, then waiver of IP should be taken seriously. And the UN Security Council can do it -- if there is political will.”
He said the problem with vaccine sharing could be addressed effectively if production was increased, but to do that, the barriers blocking the way could not simply be ignored.
Tedros suggested technology transfers, voluntary licensing for outsourced production, and the temporary lifting of IP rights as possible solutions.
However, when the notion of IP waivers is raised, “We see lack of cooperation and even serious resistance. To be honest, I can’t understand this, because this pandemic is unprecedented. The virus has taken the whole world hostage. But there are people who don’t even want to discuss this issue.”
“If we cannot apply provisions for a difficult time like now, during unprecedented conditions, then when? This is serious.”
The World Trade Organization is due to discuss the idea of lifting IP rights at its general council meeting on Monday and Tuesday. AFP
The plan was put forward in October by India and South Africa.
It is backed by dozens of countries including Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela.
But the United States, the European Union and wealthy nations including Australia, Britain, Japan and Singapore are against the plan.
While richer countries have surged ahead in the vaccination race, many poorer countries are still awaiting their first doses, paid for by international donors through the Covax facility.
On Friday, Ivory Coast joined Ghana as the only countries outside India -- where doses are manufactured -- to receive their first batches of vaccines through Covax.
Tedros said increasing the production and distribution of vaccines through Covax could not be done if certain countries continued to approach the manufacturers producing the doses that the facility is counting on.
“These actions undermine Covax and deprive health workers and vulnerable people around the world of life-saving vaccines,” he said.
Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s access to Covid tools hub lead, said though the message was beginning to creep through, certain nations were still trying to source extra vaccine doses in ways that undercut Covax.
“Some countries are still pursuing deals that will compromise the Covax supply, without a doubt,” he said.
“Some of the major suppliers to Covax, like the Serum Institute of India, are being approached by multiple countries.
“Any other demands on it do put a strain potentially on the supply.”