New York

07 October 2021

Secretary-General’s remarks at Virtual Joint Press Conference to launch the World Health Organization’s Global Vaccination Strategy, with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General 

[Full transcript of Secretary-General's remarks follows]

Thank you very much, dear Tedros.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press,

Vaccine inequality is the best ally of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It is allowing variants to develop and run wild, condemning the world to millions more deaths, and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars.

I have long been pushing for a global vaccination plan to reach everyone, everywhere, sooner rather than later. 

A plan to be implemented by an emergency Task Force made up of present and potential vaccine-[producing] countries, the World Health Organization, COVAX partners, and international financial institutions, working with pharmaceutical companies to guarantee the production of enough doses and their equitable distribution. Unfortunately, I have not been heard.

Yet instead of global coordinated action to get vaccines where they are needed most, we have seen vaccine hoarding, vaccine nationalism, and vaccine diplomacy.

We, of course, welcome efforts by countries to get vaccines to more places. 

But a plethora of global, regional and bilateral initiatives has failed to deliver.

It has not got us anywhere close to the first benchmark of 10 percent vaccination in all countries by the end of September, as Dr. Tedros just said and this even though the number of doses required comes to less than one week of global manufacturing output.

That is why I am pleased to join Dr. Tedros today to launch the Global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy.

This is a costed, coordinated and credible path out of the COVID-19 pandemic for everyone, everywhere.

This detailed plan of action, drawn up by the World Health Organization, is designed to get vaccines, as it was said, into the arms of 40 percent of people in all countries by the end of this year, and 70 percent by the middle of 2022.

It is based on a thorough scientific analysis of the evolving pandemic; the effectiveness of vaccines; the cost of procuring and delivering them; and global demand and supply.

Through dose sharing, swaps, technology transfers and other priority actions, it is possible to reduce deaths and minimize suffering, prevent health systems from being overwhelmed, resume social and economic activities, and reduce the risk of dangerous new variants.

It is up to Member States to do their part, to come together, doing everything that is needed for this strategy to succeed.

The entire United Nations system is mobilized around supporting governments to end this pandemic – from health and humanitarian workers to logistics and operational experts and communications specialists, through our Verified campaign to fight the plague of vaccine misinformation. 

With vaccine production now at nearly 1.5 billion doses per month, we can reach 40 percent of people in all countries by year’s end – if we can mobilize some $8 billion to ensure that distribution is equitable.

Because crucially, the success of this plan requires equitable distribution. Without a coordinated, equitable approach, a reduction of cases in any one country will not be sustained over time. For everyone’s sake, we must urgently bring all countries to a high level of vaccination coverage.

G20 countries have frequently spoken of their desire to get the world vaccinated. Their meeting later this month will be an opportunity to deliver.

I urge all global stakeholders to step up, mobilise their resources and turn this strategy into a reality.

I wish WHO the best success in all the efforts WHO has been doing to make sure that we are able to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you very much, Dr. Tedros. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen of the press.

Question: [Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African Broadcasting Corporation] Thank you. Dr. Tedros, Secretary-General, in October 2020, the global death toll was around 1.3 million, the month at which South Africa and India presented their proposal for a TRIPS IP waiver at the World Trade Organization. A year later, that death toll is exceeding 5 million. Amnesty International says vaccine pharma companies are fueling an unprecedented human rights crisis through their refusal to waive intellectual property rights and share vaccine technology. At what point will officials like the Director-General, like the Secretary-General, be able to say pharmaceutical companies and countries blocking or stalling efforts towards a waiver are now directly responsible for continued deaths? Because there's a strong case to be made that it's no longer COVID-19 that's killing people, but a lack of access to these lifesaving immunizations?

Secretary-General: Well, this demonstrates that, unfortunately, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, leadership and power are not aligned. WHO, the whole UN system, have shown leadership, but we have no power – we have no power to determine the things that you have just mentioned, we have no power to force companies to license or to make countries accept that TRIPS will not apply.

We cannot force countries to organize their vaccination programs in order to take into account also the vaccination programs of other countries. I mean, the power is in the countries that produce vaccines, or might produce them, and in the companies.

And that is why I've been saying since the beginning that they need to come together and to make sure that there is a vaccination plan to [benefit] everybody, everywhere. In the absence of that effort by those that have power, WHO and the UN, showing leadership, are presenting a strategy, which would allow to vaccinate 40 per cent of people everywhere until the end of this year and 70 per cent until June next year.

Now, if those that were not able to come together, to assume command with their power to make equitable the distribution of vaccines, I hope that they will all, that they will be able to come together to do the steps that are necessary for this strategy to be effectively implemented. And it is clear for me that this is a case in which the well-being of humankind and the dramatic situation of the global economy would require, not business as usual, but exceptional rules, exceptional norms, and exceptional measures in order to be able to defeat the COVID.

Each day the COVID goes on is people dying and it is economies not being able to recover and it is also the dramatic increase of suffering all over the world.

Question: Dr. Harris, thank you very much for the question. It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News, based at the United Nations. My question is for the Secretary-General. You said you want to mobilize $8 billion, and both you and Dr. Tedros say the rich countries and the private sector have not done enough. Now, many countries say they have given what they can, and COVAX has had some, quite a bit of success. The malaria vaccine – congratulations – moved forward with a lot of private foundation money and individuals. If you can't get these IP waivers or countries to give as much as you want, what is your fear for variants, or the next major pandemic? What is your worst-case scenario? Thank you so much.

Secretary-General: We need to avoid that worst-case scenario, but one thing is clear: If we let the virus spread like wildfire in the Global South, in the African continent and other parts of the Global South, we know that variants will emerge. And we know that there is a risk that those variants might become resistant to vaccines, which means we have the risk, if we let this lack of equity, if we leave it going on, and we allow for the virus to go on spreading like wildfire in the Global South, there is a risk that, one day – and that day can be very soon – there will be not the Delta, it will be another variant that will be able to resist vaccines, and all the vaccination effort made in developed countries to vaccinate the whole of the population, one, two or three times – all that effort will fall apart. And these people will not be protected.

So, not to have equitable distribution of vaccines is not only a question of being immoral – it is also a question of being stupid.

Question: Thank you. I’m Lisa Godinho, from W Magazine in Portugal, and I have a question for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. I would like to know if, in his opinion, climate change could be related to the COVID pandemic? If, for a more effective fight against COVID at the global level, countries should not think about health, health in its connection with the environment and adopt more sustainable measures, in parallel with administrated vaccination? Thank you.

Secretary-General: It is obvious that COVID is creating enormous difficulties in the economy and societies, everywhere. And obviously those difficulties are increasing the debt of countries, making countries unable to do the investments that are necessary.

All these difficulties are undermining the capacity of developing countries to be able to respond to climate change, to make the investments necessary to reduce emissions, and for adaptation, resilience of their societies.

And so it's essential that developed countries implement the commitment made in order to provide US$100 billion per year for developing countries, both for the reduction of emissions, but, and we asked for 50 per cent of it to go for the investments necessary to build resilience, for infrastructure, for communities – the so-called adaptation.

So, we need to make an additional effort in relation to support to developing states to fight climate change. We need an additional effort to compensate for the dramatic negative impact of COVID in their economies and their societies.