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Vaccine distribution 'as important as discovery'

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | | Updated: 2020-11-24 04:04
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The World Health Organization, or WHO, on Monday hailed the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines, but emphasized that their fair distribution will be crucial in defeating the pandemic.

It came as the world reported 58.8 million cases and 1.39 million deaths from COVID-19 by Monday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

"With the latest positive news from vaccine trials, the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel is growing brighter," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference from Geneva.

"There is now real hope that vaccine, in combination with other tried and tested public health measures, will help to end the COVID-19 pandemic."

Tedros said that the significance of this scientific achievement cannot be overstated, as no vaccines in history have been developed as rapidly as these.

"The scientific community has set a new standard for vaccine development," he said, adding that the international community must now set a new standard for access.

"The urgency with which COVID-19 vaccines have been developed must be matched by the same urgency to distribute them fairly," he said, noting that there is a real risk that the poorest and most vulnerable could be pushed aside in the race for vaccines.

Oxford University and AstraZeneca announced this week that their coronavirus vaccine candidate is 70 percent effective but the efficacy could be as high as 90 percent by tweaking the dosage regimen.

The news came after Moderna and Pfizer reported the efficacy of their vaccines at 90 percent. China and Russia have also announced the success of effective vaccines.

On Monday, Tedros applauded the 187 countries for participating in the COVAX facility to collaborate on the procurement and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, ensuring the best possible prices, volumes and timing for all countries.

According to the International Monetary Fund, if the medical solutions can be made available faster and more widely, that could lead to a cumulative increase in global income of almost $9 trillion by the end of 2025.

"The real question is not whether the world can afford to share COVID-19 vaccines and other tools, it's whether it can afford not to," Tedros said.

He also praised world leaders at the G20 summit on Saturday for their support for the WHO and their commitment to the ACT-Accelerator to develop tests, drugs and vaccines for COVID-19 and to distribute them equitably. COVAX is the vaccine arm of the program.

Dag-Inge Ulstein, Norway's Minister of International Development, said the pandemic will not go away if "we sit still and do nothing.

"Moreover, it is not going away if some countries only are taking a 'my nation first' approach," he told the press briefing.

"Such vaccine nationalism is not only morally reprehensible, it is also a stupid thing to do because we've already heard many times, we are not safe until we are all safe."

The United States has not participated in the COVAX facility.

US news outlet Politico reported over the weekend that President Donald Trump told the G20 Leaders Summit that he wants US citizens to be the first to receive vaccinations against the novel coronavirus, a position that is in keeping with his America First ideology, but which contradicts the position of public health experts and most other world leaders.

A White House statement about Trump's participation in the G20 summit did not mention his talk on the vaccines.


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