Disparities, Inequity ‘Morally Unconscionable’, Says Head of World Trade Organization, Urging Practical Means to Tackle Hurdles
With the number of new COVID-19 cases around the world nearly doubling over the past two months — approaching the highest infection rate observed during the pandemic — the unequal distribution of vaccines is not only a moral outrage, but economically and epidemiologically self-defeating, the head of the United Nations health agency told a special ministerial meeting of the Economic and Social Council today.
“Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), told the gathering in opening remarks. “And we are failing.”
Driving that point home, he reported that, of the 832 million vaccine doses administered, 82 per cent have gone to high- or upper‑middle-income countries, while only 0.2 per cent have been sent to their low-income counterparts. In high‑income countries alone, 1 in 4 people have been vaccinated, a ratio that drops precipitously to 1 in 500 in poorer countries.
The meeting — held in virtual format with the theme “A Vaccine for All” — brought together senior officials from the United Nations, Governments, business, the scientific community and civil society. They explored ways to guarantee equal access to vaccines as a global public good, and strengthen the readiness of countries for their distribution.
The Director-General said that rapidly spreading variants, the inconsistent application and premature easing of public health measures, fatigue with social restrictions and the dramatic inequity in vaccine coverage have all led to an alarming spike in new cases and deaths. “This is a time for partnership, not patronage,” he emphasized.
“We have the tools to end this pandemic,” he continued. The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator), created by WHO and its partners, as well as the COVAX Facility, can prevent mistakes of 40 years ago, when the world was slow to deploy life-saving antiretroviral drugs to poor countries during the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Today, COVAX has distributed 40 million doses to 100 countries, but that is nowhere near enough, he said, stressing that WHO had expected to have distributed 100 million doses by now. Some countries have received nothing, none have received enough, and some are not receiving second-round allocation on time, he noted. “The problem is not getting vaccines out of COVAX,” he added. “The problem is getting them in.”
He said WHO is working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to scale up production and supply. A COVAX manufacturing task force has been formed, and promisingly, the African Union will form the New Partnership for African Manufacturing, he noted. It aims to build five vaccine production hubs on the continent, starting with three mRNA facilities in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa. WHO is also developing regional regulatory capacity through the African Medicines Agency, he reported.
Calling upon countries with enough vaccine to cover their populations “many times over” to make immediate donations to COVAX, he underlined the vital need to explore every option for boosting production. They include voluntary licences, technology pools, flexibilities on trade-related intellectual property rights and waiving certain intellectual property provisions, and investing in local vaccine manufacturing. WHO will continue to provide technical assistance and to add manufacturing bases across Africa, Asia and Latin America, he said.
He urged all countries to carry out measures that work — surveillance, testing, contact‑tracing, supportive quarantine and compassionate care — emphasizing that never in the 75-year history of the United Nations has its role been more important. “We cannot defeat this virus one country at a time,” he stressed. “We can only do it with a coordinated global effort, based on the principles of solidarity, equity and sharing.”
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), described the vaccine disparities as “morally unconscionable”. Addressing inequity is a task that forces the world to grapple with daunting technical, logistical, policy and political hurdles, but they can be overcome in a practical, empirically informed manner, she said. While the impulse to conserve supply is understandable, securing personal safety is not enough, she emphasized. “We must find a way to share.”
A recent WTO vaccine equity event had some encouraging takeaways, she reported, making clear the untapped potential in developing countries to step up production, and the availability of resources to bankroll such investment. WTO members have reduced export restrictions from 109 in nearly 90 countries, to 51 in 62 countries, she said, adding that, with pragmatic engagement, they can find ways to bridge concerns over intellectual property rights. She went on to express hope that such efforts will lead to a framework agreement on trade and health, preferably before the twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference in December.
Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, as well as being a moral imperative, universal vaccine coverage is the only realistic way out of the pandemic. He called for scaling up production, addressing intellectual property issues, supporting weak health systems, removing export restrictions — and importantly — funding the WHO ACT‑Accelerator and COVAX Facility. Decisive steps towards universal access to vaccines is a prerequisite for economic recovery, he stressed.
Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, emphasized: “No topic is as relevant or pertinent to the world today as that of vaccines,” while acknowledging: “Our efforts have not been perfect.” He stressed that “we must finish what we have started”, pressing Governments to recommit to the principles of human solidarity and cooperation. The progress made to date is the result of countries working with hundreds of companies and thousands of scientists — “multilateralism at its finest” — he said.
With a view to ensuring the goal of “vaccines for all”, he continued, Member States should extend resources to COVAX; invest in vaccine research, production and distribution; donate vaccines to countries in need; and tackle misinformation to ensure that everyone is educated on the benefits of inoculation. “It is the job of the United Nations and its Member States to act on these demands,” he stressed.
Throughout the day, ministers and other senior officials explored ways to bridge financing gaps, build national capacities and maximize vaccine supply and rollout, as they engaged in two panel discussions addressing the related problems.
Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, moderated the first panel discussion, on the theme “Scaling up for Vaccine Equity”. It featured the following panellists: Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS); Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization (WHO); John Nkengasong, Director, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; Paul Farmer, Professor and Chair, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard University Medical School; and Andrey Zarur, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, GreenLight Biosciences, Incorporated.
Ms. FLEMING, opening the discussion, cited data showing that 9 out of 10 people in poor countries could miss out on vaccines. She asked the UNAIDS Executive Director to elaborate on the concept of “people’s vaccine” and on ways in which to address vaccine inequality.
Ms. BYANYIMA said rich nations are currently vaccinating their citizens at a rate of one person per second while, as of the week of 4 to 11 April, seven African countries were yet to receive a single dose. She added that widening inequality — exacerbated by the pandemic — runs counter to the Sustainable Development Goals. The right to health is a universal human right, she pointed out, emphasizing that it that should not be up for sale or denied due to profit concerns. Vaccine nationalism or apartheid is self-defeating because it prolongs the crisis, economic downturn and suffering for everyone, she said, stressing that investment in regional vaccine manufacturing hubs is necessary for future global safety. Noting that vaccine inequality translates into social and economic inequality, she said any delay in response to the current crisis equates to more loss of life and increased poverty. She added that a global plan is needed to effectively address this issue.
Responding to a question about similarities between the current crisis and the HIV/AIDS one, she reiterated that unequal access to health products, technology and services costs lives and delays overall recovery. Recalling that treatment for HIV/AIDS initially cost between $10,000 per patient per year, she said the cost fell to $100 per patient per year as a direct result of a global movement pushing for change. She urged the international community to learn from past crises, avoid previous mistakes and bear in mind that — beyond the moral and economic imperatives to act — “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.
Ms. FORE, asked about vaccine-equity concerns and UNICEF’s role in addressing COVID-19, noted that about half the world’s vaccines have passed through the agency’s doors for the past 20 years. Children require routine immunizations and must not be neglected while the world vaccinates against COVID‑19, she emphasized. UNICEF moves 2 billion doses of vaccines for children annually, she said, adding that the Fund plans to move another 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines if it has the supply. To that end, countries must emphasize preparedness for their distribution by developing priorities for who will receive the vaccine first — for example, front-line workers such as doctors, nurses and teachers — and by communicating to their citizens that vaccines are the best protection against COVID-19 and its variants. She went on to underscore the importance of sufficient manufacturing capacity for supplies that facilitate vaccine distribution, including masks, syringes and safe disposal equipment.
On how to avoid vaccine nationalism, she pointed out that the number of doses administered in low-income countries stands at 0.2 per cent of the population, compared to 16.7 per cent in middle-income countries and 48.7 per cent in high-income ones. To address that inequality, she called for the removal of import and export restrictions, increased licensing of relevant intellectual property and the loan, release or donation of vaccine supplies by those countries possessing excess supply.
Ms. SWAMINATHAN, answering a query about WHO’s role in pushing for equitable access to vaccines, emphasized that agency’s importance as a normative agency that informed manufacturers of benchmarks for COVID-19 vaccines — including a minimum of 50 per cent efficacy — which regulators then used in assessing vaccine candidates. She said that, for universal access to be successful, it requires investment in infrastructure, workforce training, transfer of technology and knowledge, a competent regulatory system and willingness to share on the part of the holders of intellectual property-rights holders.
On how to address the health concerns surrounding the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, she pointed out that recent health complications are not unexpected because no drug or vaccine is 100 per cent safe and a certain percentage out of a large pool of recipients will inevitably display rare side effects. The issue here is one of trust, not only in the vaccines, but also in the authorities disseminating information about them, she stressed. Authorities must be open and transparent about known facts, and the calculus is ultimately about benefit versus risk. She added that the risk for all age groups of dying from COVID-19 is far higher than that of dying from a vaccine.
Dr. NKENGASONG, asked about the challenges facing vaccine rollout in Africa, recalled past health crises in which tens of millions on the continent died needlessly. The international community “should not let history repeat itself”, he emphasized, pointing out that “nice words about solidarity” expressed at the onset of the pandemic disappeared quickly with the arrival of vaccines. The international community cannot neglect a continent of 1.3 billion people if it is to overcome the present crisis. Expressing surprise that “basic common sense” has not prevailed in that regard, he invoked Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, appeal to the “fierce urgency of now” in calling for a return to the spirit of cooperation that defined the early days of the present crisis to fight the coronavirus.
Concerning the potential for increased vaccine manufacturing in Africa to solve the current crisis and others like it, he underscored the importance of implementing a framework for reversing the narrative that 99 per cent of vaccines in Africa are imported. He expressed hope that, in 20 years, Africa will manufacture at least 50 per cent of the vaccines it uses. That would be in the world’s best interest, he emphasized, calling for partnerships in technology transfer, infrastructure development and regulatory issues in support of the African vision for such manufacturing.
Mr. FARMER, asked how to apply lessons learned during previous health crises, said one of the biggest failures of the response to Ebola in West Africa was low expectations and ambition on the part of imported experts, tinged with a distinctly colonial feel. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has carried out excellent work in recent years, he noted, underlining the importance of African-led initiatives. He emphasized that the delay between the development and use of new tools costs lives, recalling that a vaccine proven effective against Ebola sat on shelves for a decade due to a perceived lack of demand. The history of medicine and public health in Africa, he added, serves as a reminder that the international community must focus on equitably “irrigating clinical deserts” in order to decolonize global health and respond to COVID-19.
Asked about a road map for a more equitable global health system, he said what is necessary is “not rocket science” — countries need safe spaces to deliver care, systems and support to those in need.
Mr. ZARUR, asked about the role that the private sector can play in scaling up vaccine production and promoting equitable distribution, said that sector has a responsibility — rather than a role to play — to build national capacities for vaccine manufacturing so that Governments can address problems on the local level. “If you teach someone how to make a vaccine, you vaccinate them forever,” he observed. The private sector must create a new business model that allows for profitable universal vaccine production, potentially by allowing countries to earn the right — through the licensing of intellectual property — to manufacture their own vaccines and profit from doing so, he said.
Responding to a question about potential challenges faced by developing countries, even if granted licensing and manufacturing rights, he said the biggest such challenge is one of funding. Although the cost of implementation is miniscule compared to the damage already suffered, human nature would rather spend money on treatment than on prevention, he added. Calling for the scaling up of education systems, he said the world needs trained operators who, bolstered by the global transfer of technology and skills, can develop the next generation of vaccines for the crises to come.
IBRAHIMA KALIL KABA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guinea, spoke on behalf of the “Group of 77” and China, emphasizing that COVID-19 vaccines must be treated as a global public good. Fair, timely and universal access is necessary to overcome the pandemic and recover momentum to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he said. He called for increased sharing of technology and information while urging all countries to counter misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. Pointing out that the global vaccine gap threatens collective health and well‑being, he expressed support for scaling up vaccine production under the trade-related intellectual property rights agreement.
ALEXEY TSOY, Minister for Healthcare of Kazakhstan, spoke on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, noting that inequitable access to vaccines is deepening the divide between poor and rich countries. He called upon relevant stakeholders to refrain from direct, unilateral deals with manufacturers and by donating vaccines to vulnerable countries. At least 70 per cent of the world’s population must be vaccinated in order to contain the current crisis, according to expert opinion, he said, encouraging the facilitators of COVAX to increase intended procurement. He also called upon WTO members to use the trade‑related intellectual property rights agreement to temporarily increase timely, affordable access to essential medical products.
FRANK ANTHONY, Minister for Health of Guyana, spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), expressing concern regarding the devastating impact of COVID-19 on small, developing States in the form of lockdown measures, supply‑chain disruptions, sharp declines in remittances and the general decrease in travel, trade and other economic activity. Predicting that many vulnerable countries and peoples will continue to suffer unless safe, effective vaccines are made universally available and affordable, he called for increased funding for the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility, and appealed to international financial institutions to provide low-cost financing to support the pandemic recovery efforts of all developing countries.
The representative of the European Union pointed out that the bloc has spent more than €1 billion to support research on anti-COVID vaccines and therapeutics and has contributed €2.5 billion to the ACT-Accelerator’s COVAX Facility, which has exported more than 80 million doses to 42 countries. Furthermore, “Team Europe” has mobilized a global recovery package of over €40 billion and will provide a further €100 million in humanitarian support to vaccine efforts, in coordination with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. He went on to emphasize that vaccination is “not a race between countries, but a race against the virus”.
The representative of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said the pandemic has affected lives, health care, infrastructure, food security, development goals, trade, tourism, remittances and social cohesion around the globe, including in “our blue Pacific continent”. He emphasized the need to vaccinate all Pacific peoples in order to mitigate health concerns, improve well-being and facilitate early economic recovery. Equitable access to vaccines can be “considered a form of stimulus” for Pacific economies. Noting that the region’s small island developing States have had limited policy space in which to respond to the crisis — particularly lacking the means for extra spending — he called for increased support for health-care infrastructure, investment and training.
DON PRAMUDWINAI, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, noted that more than half the 9.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines secured by countries around the world are concentrated in only 10 of them. Calling for global efforts to improve vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacities, he said Thailand will serve as a regional manufacturing hub for a viral vector-based vaccine by the second half of 2021, and plans to produce up to 200 million doses annually. He emphasized that the international community can seize the present moment to turn crisis into opportunity by accelerating achievement of health-related Sustainable Development Goals, such as universal health coverage.
Moderated by Juan Sandoval Mendiolea, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations and Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, the panel featured presentations by Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Mamta Murthi, Vice‑President for Human Development, World Bank Group; Jorge Moreira da Silva, Director, Development Co-operation Directorate, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); Miho Shirotori, Acting Director of Trade and Commodities, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director, COVID-Task Force, United States Agency for International Development; Lucas Chancel, co-Director, World Inequality Lab and World Inequality Database, Paris School of Economics; and Chris Lockyear, Secretary-General, Médecins Sans Frontières.
Mr. BERKLEY said the COVAX Facility has delivered 40 million doses to 114 economies — working with Pfizer, AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute in particular — and raised $8.3 billion towards the Advance Market Commitment. The Facility will be able cover 2 to 3 per cent of the global population by the end of summer, he added. However, there are supply constraints, intense competition for doses and problems with restrictions on vaccine exports, he said. Describing the global focus on equitable allocation as a success in itself, he contrasted it with the scepticism of the message “no one is safe until everyone is safe”, a year earlier. Observing that the emergence of variants has changed minds, he said it has also led to vaccine panic, with countries buying doses from everywhere, including through bilateral agreements, which are inefficient and “not in anybody’s self-interest”. Governments should instead remove export and import control measures that slow the delivery of vaccines and supplies, he said. Nor is vaccine diplomacy a health-based approach to sharing, he added, emphasizing that vaccines should be delivered through a multilateral mechanism, such as COVAX. Equitable allocation would add $9 trillion to the global economy, he noted, warning that, without it, “we’re all going to pay the price”.
Mr. CHANCEL said that meeting the demands by India, South Africa and more than 100 emerging and developing countries for the opening of intellectual property rights would allow scientists to work on tackling the COVID-19 variants, and to trade the best available vaccines. Calling attention to the European Union’s position in WTO, he said the bloc has blocked most of the emerging world from expanding distribution since October 2020, by limiting private intellectual property rights. That action contravenes claims by European leaders that access to vaccines should be a global public good, he said, emphasizing: “Every researcher should have access to formulas developed in 2020,” he said, adding that every company should also have access to the trials and errors of the few pharmaceutical companies that produced the best vaccines to date. He went on to stress that it is not an efficient approach for the richest nation on earth to keep that information to itself, calling for the “liberation” of all productive capacities on the planet. The European Union, United States and leaders of high-income countries must meet the demands of India and South Africa as soon as possible, he said. “This will not cost high-income‑country taxpayers money,” he said. “This really is about expanding the size of possible solutions.”
Mr. MOREIRA DA SILVA, outlining policies to support equitable access to vaccines, said the absence of a global strategy to deploy them in developing countries has caused a crisis, delaying global economic recovery. “Current efforts are not enough” as demand outstrips supply, he emphasized. The recent OECD report “Learning from Crisis: Building Resilience” calls on donors to increase support as inequitable vaccine rollouts threaten to reverse hard-fought progress, he noted. Frameworks for equitable allocation, notably through COVAX, should be supported. “We need to make the case for additional development finance,” and at the same time, ensure that support is not diverted from other areas critical for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, he said. Sixteen trillion dollars is being spent on domestic recovery packages, while $22 billion is needed to fill the vaccine rollout funding gap, he said, pointing out the need for country-led solutions, the right infrastructure and a solid donation structure for deploying vaccines.
Ms. MURTHI said fair equitable access is among the most urgent priorities today. While the idea that the pandemic will not end until everyone has safe and effective vaccines is understood, countries face very different odds, she said, emphasizing the importance of access and within countries. Noting that delays in production and strong demand in high-income nations has deprived poor countries of access, she pressed countries with excess supply to donate doses, notably through the COVAX Facility as a coordinating vehicle. She called for transparency on the part of countries, suppliers and development partners alike, describing various problems created by the lack of clarity around how much supply has been pre‑ordered and how much is available. She emphasized the importance of reducing both formal and informal export restrictions to encourage the flow of supplies and expand manufacturing capacity. Turning to equity within countries, she recalled her work assessing vaccine readiness, much of which found that, while countries are ready on a small scale, most must bolster their supply chains and communicate with their populations to reduce vaccine hesitancy, she said, adding that the World Bank is stepping in to support “readiness for deployment” and equitable distribution.
Ms. SHIROTORI, outlining how the global trading system can minimize intellectual property rights barriers, said a transparent and predictable framework is needed to curtail vaccine nationalism, whose proponents call for irregular trade measures, such as banning vaccines outright. The impact of such measures disproportionately harms low-income countries, she pointed out. Emphasizing that economic recovery depends on vaccinating large swathes of a country’s population, she cautioned that vaccine nationalism could cost the global economy $1.2 trillion a year. WTO, for its part, provides members with a legal framework within which to discuss flexibilities in relation to trade agreements. Noting that members are currently discussing waivers to the trade-related intellectual property rights agreement, she said “the question to ask is not if or how, but when the [trade‑related intellectual property rights] waiver will be achieved.” The waiver is in full compliance with the 2030 Agenda, clearly outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 3, target 3.b, she pointed out, describing waivers as the first step towards realizing a vaccine for all. From a finance perspective, she said, they boost incentives for private and public investment in infrastructure and productive capacity. She went on to call for global and regional actions to tackle major bottlenecks faced by developing countries, including their lack of technology and capital, low capacity to uphold standards, weak institutional frameworks, small market size and poor infrastructure.
Mr. LOCKYEAR, agreeing that global vaccine production and supply is struggling to meet global demand, and that the scarcity of tools and vaccines has reinforced disparities, said countries with productive capacity benefit from privileged access. That must prompt the international community to rethink the global agenda, moving away from the focus on economic efficiency to enabling local capacity in low- and middle‑income countries, he said. To do so, vaccine developers must share their intellectual property and transfer their know-how, giving countries the opportunity to leverage the emergence of mRNA vaccines, which require less capital investment, he added, emphasizing that mechanisms for enabling technology transfer must be transparent and open to multiple manufacturers. He also called for reducing barriers to increasing production, saying that countries must have new options for surmounting obstacles. “The bottom line is that we need to truly treat vaccines as a global public good in themselves,” he stressed.
Mr. KONYDYK, outlining how the international community can close the financing gap, recalled that the United States, alongside Gavi, co-hosted an event for investment in the COVAX Facility, aiming to raise $2 billion in the coming months and to boost coverage from 20 per cent of Advanced Market Commitment countries to 30 per cent. But, there is a long way to go and additional resources must be identified, he said, adding that the United States will continue to support Gavi, making additional contributions to elevate what can be achieved through COVAX. “We also need money to be routed more strategically”, because funds are indeed available, but not necessarily being routed in the most optimal way, he said, noting that the World Bank has offered $12 billion to support vaccine purchases and that multilateral development banks should do likewise. Describing bilateral flows as inefficient, he said the power of COVAX and multilateral banks is to consolidate money, sending a signal to companies that they do not have to forge deals with Governments. “We see COVAX as the most important way of doing that,” he added, also underlining the need to better target gaps in the supply chain.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, ministers and senior officials outlined the many ways in which their countries are working to vaccinate their peoples and support equitable access to vaccines. The Minister for International Development of Canada highlighted her country’s strong commitment to the ACT‑Accelerator, saying it has provided $940 million to date. She described equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines as “our path to ending the pandemic”.
The Minister for Health of the Russian Federation recalled that his country was the first to develop and register a COVID-19 vaccine, saying it now has three available and launched mass vaccinations in January. Importantly, the Russian Federation is working to enhance access to the Sputnik V vaccine, producing it both domestically and abroad. Today, it is available in 60 countries and the Government is completing a procedure to include it for use in emergency situations, he said, adding that his country has made voluntary contributions to United Nations agencies and is working bilaterally to provide personal protective equipment.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia said vaccines are being distributed throughout her country with the aim of covering 70 per cent of the population by the end of the year. She recalled that, in February, Colombia sponsored a Security Council resolution calling for global access to vaccines.
Other speakers called for urgent action on trade, with the Minister for Internal Relations and Cooperation of South Africa highlighting her country’s joint efforts with India to persuade WTO members to approve an emergency temporary waiver of some intellectual property rights rules so that medical technology transfer can be granted during the pandemic. That would allow countries to produce vaccines originally produced by other manufacturers, she said, adding that increased production would, in turn, permit direct access to and sharing of technology while enabling procurement. It would also lower prices and expedite distribution to everyone, everywhere. “I hope all Member States of the United Nations will support this initiative,” placing people over profits, she said, calling also on the Economic and Social Council to encourage greater action on universal access. “After all, ECOSOC is an activist Council whose role is to ensure action for development,” she pointed out.
The Minister for Health and Family Welfare of India similarly urged WTO to suspend considerations of intellectual property rights in order to rapidly increase manufacturing. Pointing out that his country has lived up to the “civilizational ethos of seeing the world as one family”, he said India has developed two vaccines, one indigenously, and both have been granted emergency use authority. With 20 other candidates in the pipeline, he said, the Government has sent vaccines to 80 countries and even gifted vaccines to peacekeepers. He went on to press countries to collaborate on genomic surveillance and exchange information to ensure that vaccine programmes for other diseases are not adversely affected. Efforts must also be made to prevent misinformation by providing scientific facts.
Several speakers called for a large-scale focus on the ACT‑Accelerator and COVAX Facility, among them, the Minister for International Development of Norway, who said the ACT-Accelerator partnership aims to send 330 million doses to 145 countries by July. To help fill the $22.3 billion gap, Norway and South Africa have sent letters to 89 high- and middle-income countries, encouraging them to contribute their share of resources, he said, adding that equity means recovery must be non-discriminating and gender-sensitive.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt similarly advocated financial assistance for the COVAX Facility, emphasizing: “Developing countries that lack industrial capacity must be supported to expand their production base.” He also drew attention to the need for a provisional waiver of the trade-related intellectual property rights agreement and the importance of meeting needs in Africa.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brazil said that, despite short-term supply and production delays that have hampered its vaccine programme, his country has nonetheless distributed 50 million doses. Noting that Brazil joined the ACT‑Accelerator and the COVAX Facility, as well as its call to action to promote solidarity, he urged vaccine-producing countries to facilitate exports to COVAX, and the Facility to accelerate the rollout to participating countries, giving consideration to each country’s epidemiological situation. “Governments must come together to increase production capacity,” he emphasized.
On that point, the Vice‑Minister for Foreign Affairs of China said his country has kept its word in making its vaccines available as a global public good. Noting that they are authorized for use in 80 countries, he said China was among the first to respond to the ACT‑Accelerator and expressed regret that some high‑income countries only care only about their own interests.
The Minister for Health of Armenia pointed out that her country is a self‑financing participant in the COVAX Facility and committed to global solidarity. She denounced the deteriorating global leadership amid the “political noise” over vaccines, emphasizing that the moral imperative must be restored.
Broadly agreeing, the Minister for Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago said the pandemic has exposed the proverbial tug of war between the “haves and the have-nots”, and laid bare the fragilities of small island developing States. He urged WHO to convene a global summit to address inequitable access to vaccines.
Mr. AKRAM (Pakistan), Council President, said in closing remarks that today’s lengthy debate indicates the enormity of the threat posed by inaction. Acknowledging that “we know what we need to do”, he emphasized: “Lives are more important than incentives.” Many countries in the developing world have the means to assume production of vaccines, he said, adding that the issue is now one of political will.
Also speaking were ministers and senior officials representing Nicaragua, Maldives, Venezuela, Indonesia, Peru, Costa Rica, Argentina, Ethiopia, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Philippines, Bolivia, Andorra, Cuba, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Paraguay, Switzerland, Morocco, Algeria, United States, United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Serbia, Nepal, Lebanon, Kenya, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mexico and Italy. The meeting also heard from the Observer Mission of the Holy See.