Health and Healthcare Systems

WHO launches global initiative to create equitable access to COVID-19 drugs and vaccines

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RC2R9F9133SB

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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COVID-19

  • World Health Organization holds media briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Announces global collaboration for equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
  • Merkel, Macron and EU Commission chief participate on line.
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At a briefing attended online by a range of world leaders, the World Health Organization announced a special initiative to strengthen global collaboration and ensure equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

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“Countries, health partners, manufacturers, and the private sector must act together and ensure that the fruits of science and research can benefit everybody," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

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The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator will help "speed up and harmonise" the development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for COVID-19.

WHO officials have stressed that creating a safe and viable vaccine is not the only challenge ahead for a successful programme that eradicates COVID-19. For example, once a vaccine is developed and deemed safe, its manufacture must be quickly scaled up to cover the world's 7.8 billion people, Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told a briefing on Monday.

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Once that is accomplished, the vaccine must be distributed to all people, requiring some key changes to vaccine delivery. "We’re very good at delivering vaccines in children," Ryan said. "As a global health architecture, we’re not very good at delivering vaccines in other than children, in adults".

Communities must be engaged and "fully on board," he said.

"We’ve seen a lot of problems with vaccine acceptance, so when we look right along the value chain of vaccine development, we’re very focused on the product development, and that’s very important but there are whole ranges of things that need to be done downstream to make the use, the scale-up and allocation of any product successful in public health terms".

Equity will also be key. And as long as the virus circulates, the world faces the risk of resurgence and additional fatalities.

"There are 193 or 194 or more countries and populations and peoples that share this planet," Ryan said. "They all deserve to have access to the benefits of a vaccine".

In a statement today for the ACT Accelerator, the WHO explained that

In the past, even when tools to fight outbreaks have been available, they haven't always been equally available to all, the WHO said in a statement on the ACT Accelerator, citing
the early days of HIV treatment and the deployment of vaccines against the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

"We cannot allow that to happen", said Dr Tedros told Friday's briefing.

"This inequity is unacceptable – all tools to address COVID-19 must be available to all. In the fight against COVID-19, no one should be left behind."

The briefing, attended by a range of World Leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, served as a political commitment to ensure all tools will be made available to the public when they are available.

To prepare, the World Bank and the GAVI vaccine alliance have begun to look into building manufacturing capacity ahead of a working vaccine, GAVI CEO Seth Berkley told Reuters.

“We need to ensure that there are enough vaccines for everyone, we are going to need global leadership to identify and prioritize vaccine candidates."

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