Solidarity and sharing - An urgent goal

Monday, 2021-03-29 09:39:53
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FILE PHOTO: A pharmacist prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in a pharmacy in Paris as part of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in France, March 19, 2021. (Reuters)
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NDO – The United Nations (UN) announced that the majority of member states have committed to promoting equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. As a “scarce commodity” during the pandemic time, vaccines have yet to reach many countries, partly because poor countries lack resources and some rich countries purchase a greater volume than their emergency needs. More than ever, the urgent goal now is unity and vaccine sharing.

In a statement on March 26, the UN confirmed that 180 out of 193 member states have signed a joint political declaration affirming their support and the promotion of global solidarity and multilateral cooperation to accelerate the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines at the regional level and around the world. The declaration clearly states that the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s COVAX initiative is an appropriate international mechanism to ensure fair access to vaccines. UN member states urged rich countries with high availability of vaccine sources to share with middle and low-income countries as well as the places in need of emergency assistance.

The UN’s political declaration was issued in the context that the gap in access to vaccines between countries remains too wide. Many international agreements, initiatives and joint declarations have been made, but the distribution of vaccines remains uneven between countries and even within countries themselves. Worryingly, there are still many countries without access to COVID-19 vaccines. Media data showed that as of March 27, it is estimated that more than 510 million doses of vaccines had been injected worldwide, with the most inoculations reported in the US (133 million doses) and India (91 million doses). However, the number of COVID-19 cases is constantly increasing, with more than 500,000 cases recorded globally within the past week. The pandemic is raging more strongly in Europe and Latin America. In the current third wave of COVID-19, the vaccination progress in Brazil has not kept pace with the spread of the disease, while in Mexico, only a small part of the population has been vaccinated.

Warning about the inequality between countries in vaccine access and national immunisation, the WHO continues to call on rich countries to maintain and expand vaccine funding in order to help the poor ones accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Recognising that the world is in an urgent stage, the WHO set a target of leaving no country left without starting the vaccination after the first 100 days of 2021. To achieve that, rich nations should share vaccines with poor countries. According to the WHO Director-General, if rich countries share 10 million doses of vaccine at the present time, at least 20 poor countries will be able to immediately initiate their vaccination campaign for health workers and the elderly in the next two weeks.

Experts have also raised the alarm vaccine shortages in poor and developing countries, in the context of increasing “vaccine nationalism” and disrupted supply chains. In a recently released research report, experts from the Global Health Innovation Centre at Duke University (US) stated that rich countries’ stockpiling of COVID-19 vaccines is hindering the efforts to fulfil the goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population, aiming to achieve community immunity. While many countries still find it difficult to access vaccine supplies, developed countries are estimated to have owned about 4.6 billion doses. For example, the US has bought 1.2 billion doses to vaccinate more than 300 million people, higher than the one billion doses ordered by the WHO under the COVAX mechanism to vaccinate billions of people in middle and low-income countries.

The WHO estimates that the world can temporarily breathe a sigh of relief only when at least 70% of the population gets vaccinated. With countries striving to access and ensure vaccine supplies, the demand for vaccines may exceed supply in the next few months. Along with the fierce competition in vaccine ownership, many challenges are also facing the production and distribution stages. According to experts, the solution to this problem is for countries to be willing to transfer technology and share patents to help increase vaccine production capacity.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop complicatedly, with signs of calming down only recorded in a few places. Solidarity and sharing are the urgent goals reiterated by the UN.