This week, the UK began rolling out a vaccine developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech, and more countries are expected to follow suit very soon.
“To have safe and effective vaccines against a virus that was completely unknown to us just a year ago is an amazing scientific achievement,” Tedros said, during his regular briefing from Geneva.
“But an even bigger achievement would be ensuring that all countries enjoy the benefits of science equitably.”
Fill the gap
The international community has established a mechanism, known as the COVAX Facility, designed to ensure that all countries have equal access to any vaccine, once developed. Almost 190 countries are participating, and the goal is to deliver two billion doses by the end of 2021.
Tedros said there is an immediate funding gap of $ 4.3 billion to procure vaccines for the countries most in need.
“I urge donors to fill this gap quickly so that vaccines can be secured, lives can be saved, and a true global economic recovery accelerated.”
The WHO chief also called on world leaders to translate the political commitment for equitable access to vaccines into action. Meanwhile, the UN agency and its partners are helping countries strengthen their supply chains in preparation for delivery.
Tedros reported that nearly 1 billion doses of three candidate vaccines have already been secured and more deals will be announced in the near future.
The first applications from eligible countries to receive assistance under the COVAX Facility are also being evaluated.
Vaccinations on the way?
The WHO will soon make its own determination on whether some COVID-19 vaccines will be ready for deployment, a senior official said Friday in response to a journalist’s question.
Several manufacturers have been submitting test data to WHO for emergency use licenses.
Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said that only those with results from phase 3 clinical trials would be considered.
“We started with the Pfizer file; we also hope to have the Moderna followed by the AstraZeneca files examined in the coming weeks, ”he said. “And we will come out with the decision of whether or not it will receive an emergency use license.”
Speeding things up
Dr Swaminathan added that WHO is working with the International Coalition of Medical Regulatory Bodies (ICMRA) “to further accelerate things.” Several national regulators have also volunteered to help with the assessments.
His colleague, Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO Senior Advisor, explained that these processes were put in place to meet the goal of providing vaccines for all.
“In fact, we are testing these products through the WHO Emergency Use Listing Procedure,” he said.
“At the same time, we have an exceptional procedure in which some products that are approved by what we call a strict regulatory authority can also be considered by the COVAX facility, so there will be no barriers to the speed with which these products potentially could be used globally. ”
Communication is key
Going forward, Dr. Swaminathan recommended that countries should have national vaccination plans and related communication strategies.
It is important for authorities to explain the deployment process to citizens “because things are happening so fast and people are eager for information.”
He said polls indicate that the majority of the world’s population wants a COVID-19 vaccine, but at the same time, many have questions about the process.
Since doses will be limited initially, the public must also understand why front-line workers, the elderly, and other at-risk groups will be prioritized.
“And the more open and transparent we are, the more likely it is that people have confidence and security and not only want to get vaccinated, but also be patient and wait their turn,” he said.
Reinfection and ‘long COVID’
WHO is working with countries to better define COVID-19 reinfection and the frequency with which it occurs.
Laboratories in several countries have detected that some people who have had the disease have become infected again.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s happening very often, but we can’t quantify that right now,” said Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist and WHO technical lead on COVID-19.
Meanwhile, health experts continue to understand more about long-term COVID-19, which is different from reinfection.
Dr. van Kerkhove said that “prolonged COVID” is when a person develops a mild case of the disease and appears to recover slightly, but then suffers longer-term impacts.
“We are learning more and more about what Long COVID is, in terms of the effects on the body. It seems to affect many different organ systems. It is not just a two-week respiratory illness. It seems to persist for months, ”he said.
WHO experts have met with some Long COVID patients, who want their condition to be recognized as real.