The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged governments to prioritise inoculation of health workers and older persons, and to share excess doses with other nations as COVID-19 vaccines are currently in scarce supply.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, made the appeal in a speech posted on the WHO website.
Ghebreyesus, who spoke at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, said more vaccines are being developed, approved and produced, saying “there will be enough for everyone.
“But for now, vaccines are a limited resource. We must use them as effectively and as fairly as we can. If we do that, lives will be saved.”
“Today (Saturday) will mark a year since the UN agency first sounded the alarm over the new coronavirus disease, declaring it a public health emergency of international concern.”
COVID-19 cases worldwide have surpassed 100 million, and he said more cases were reported in the past two weeks than during the first six months of the pandemic.
“A year ago, I said the world had a ‘window of opportunity’ to prevent widespread transmission of this new virus. Some countries heeded that call; some did not.
“Now, vaccines are giving us another window of opportunity to bring the pandemic under control. We must not squander it,” he said.
The pandemic has exposed and exploited inequalities, the WHO chief noted.
“There is now the real danger that the very tools that could help to end the pandemic – vaccines – may exacerbate those same inequalities.
“Vaccine nationalism might serve short-term political goals. But it’s ultimately short-sighted and self-defeating,” he said.
Ghebreyesus, however, underscored again, that the pandemic would not be over until it ends everywhere.
“The world has come to a critical turning point in the pandemic. But it’s also a turning point in history: faced with a common crisis, can nations come together in a common approach?”
He urged governments to vaccinate health workers and older people, and to share excess doses with the COVAX Facility, the global mechanism working to ensure equitable access and distribution, “so other countries can do the same”.
In addition, he spoke about health equity, saying “equity is at the heart of everything WHO does. This week we have released two products to close gaps in care and improve health outcomes globally.’’
The director-general said the first was the Essential Diagnostics List, a basket of diagnostics that WHO recommends should be available at point-of-care and in labs to improve timely and life-saving diagnosis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the value of timely and accurate diagnostics to save lives. Without them, you are flying blind.
“The latest edition of the Essential Diagnostics List includes tests for the COVID-19 virus, expands the suite of tests for vaccine-preventable and infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases.
“Non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, and introduces a section on endocrinology, which is important for reproductive and women’s health.
“The second product is a new 10-year plan for neglected tropical diseases – a set of 20 illnesses that affect more than a billion people, most of them poor,’’ he said.