Rich countries must share their vaccines with poor ones quickly: WHO panel

Vaccine distribution to low-income countries falls short of 1 billion target, former panel leaders, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clark, said

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 01 September 2021
Rich countries ordered twice as many COVID-19 doses as needed, flags WHO panel. Photo: Flickr

The slow pace of redistribution of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines from high-income to low-income countries is a matter of grave concern, former co-chairs of the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) flagged August 31, 2021.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, urged the high-income countries to quickly share their vaccines with the poorer ones, many of whom have not yet been able to fully vaccinate their healthcare and other frontline workers.

Most of these high-income countries have stocked over twice as many doses of COVID-19 vaccines as were needed for their populations, they said. 

Ensuring that all those around the world most vulnerable to the impact of the virus, including healthcare workers, older people and those with significant comorbidities, are vaccinated quickly is a critical step towards curbing the pandemic, the former leaders said.

The slow pace of vaccination in the Global South — referring to the regions of Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania — broadly means that an end to the pandemic may not be anywhere near. 

The panel had in May 2021 advised high-income countries with adequate vaccine supply to commit to provide “at least one billion” doses to the 92 low- and middle-income countries via COVAX by September 2021. 

COVAX is an initiative by the World Health Organization and is aimed at providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines to all countries.

The former co-chairs said:

“The panel report recommended that high-income countries ensure that at least one billion doses of vaccines available to them were redistributed to 92 low- and middle-income countries by 1 September, and a further one billion doses by mid-2022.”

So far, 99 million dose donations have been shipped via COVAX out of which only 89 million have been shipped to the 92 Advance Market Commitment countries.

This is short of the one billion doses the panel had called for.

Advance Market Commitment is a binding contract, typically offered by a government or other financial entity, used to guarantee a viable market for a product once it is successfully developed.

Low- and middle-income countries are home to at least five billion people aged above 15 years, and it is crucial to redistribute the one billion doses by September 1 to protect this population, the former leaders flagged.

They added that the manufacturing capacity if vaccines needed to be increased and knowledge and technology shared in order to scale up production quickly.

Sirleaf, in May 2021, had expressed disappointment at the world’s handling of the pandemic: “Our message is simple and clear: the current system failed to protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he had said.

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