WHO director calls for easing of vaccine hurdles for developing nations


The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) director-general today called on vaccine makers and countries to take steps to ensure that low- and middle-income countries aren’t shut out of receiving vaccine supply.

The move comes amid news of a European Union deal with Pfizer, announced by the European Commission today, that would give countries in the region nearly half of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine output for 2021.

Tedros warns against vaccine nationalism

At a WHO briefing today, Tedros Adhanom Gheybreyesus, PhD, the agency’s director-general, said the WHO-led COVAX initiative has contracts to secure 2 billion doses and the right of first refusal for 1 billion more.

Currently, 42 countries—only 6 of them middle-income countries—are rolling out vaccines. And though many lower-income countries are ready to receive vaccine, they’re not yet receiving any, because high-income countries have bought up most of it.

“Now we’re also seeing both high- and middle-income countries, that are part of COVAX, making additional bilateral deals,” Tedros said, adding that the actions could boost the price for everyone and meaning that high-risk groups such as health workers and older people in lower-income countries don’t get any vaccine.

Another problem is that some companies and countries haven’t submitted critical data needed for the WHO to issue emergency use listing, a key step for paving the way for vaccine to be deployed in developing countries. So far, the WHO has listed only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use. Two other companies have also submitted materials for the WHO to consider for listing.

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