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High income countries urged to share vaccines with poor countries

High Income Countries have been urged to donate some of their vaccines to countries who need them the most, especially low income economies to achieve vaccine equity.

Lack of vaccine equity has pushed the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation including the corporate sector and religious leaders to launch a new fundraising campaign called Go Give One aimed at encouraging people to make small donations to COVAX and push for equitable global distributions of Covid-19 vaccines.

At a live question and answer session hosted by WHO Thursday on the Twitter platform on vaccine equity, WHO Assistance Director for General Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals, Mariangela Simao, said the huge disparity in the access to vaccines between the high income countries and low income countries was worrying.

“One in four people in high income countries have received the vaccine, while one in 500 people in low income countries have received the vaccines. One billion doses of vaccines have deployed in the world and we are seeing concern that 81 percent of those doses were deployed in high income countries while 17 or 18 percent were deployed to low income countries,” she said.

Simao noted that high income countries made bilateral deals and purchased more vaccine doses than they need to cover their populations.

“When WHO and Gavi organised COVAX to provide low income countries with vaccines, at the same time high income countries were finalising heavy financing to buy vaccines. 43 to 44 million doses have been deployed by COVAX to 120 countries, trying to correct the unjust and 12 haven’t started vaccinating. Where countries have more doses than they need they must share with COVAX,” said the WHO official .

She also encouraged countries that are vaccinating to continue practising set public health measures.

“We are seeing low income countries also sitting at the table talking about manufacturing capacity and  people shouldn’t drop public health measures as we are seeing in some countries. Countries must continue with physical distancing, avoid crowding, ventilate, hands washing, wearing of face masks. Vaccines are an added measure. I advise you not to let your  guard down, we may have vaccines but the rate of infection is increasing in most parts of the world,” Simao said.

Head of Global Health Strategies Europe, John Butler, highlighted the goal was that in the first 100 days of this year vaccination should have started.

“By mid-April,  202 countries had started rolling out the vaccine. This is just a start, where we made sure the high risks are vaccinated but a lot has to be done. More to do with vaccine equity. Countries need to share now,” he said.

“If countries are vaccinating their populations right now, it is the right time to share so we can end the virus, scale up manufacturing, share tech transfer and make sure we waiver patterns. We need enough financing for COVAX to purchase vaccines. We have made a good start but there is a long way to go.”

Butler indicated vaccines are a way to end the Covid-19 pandemic by reducing new infections and mortality.

“We are seeing India in the news these days but this is the same situation in some settings where people are struggling. In countries such as the US and Europe where vaccination is high, some may find it to empathise,” he said.

Special Director to the Director General at WHO, Peter Singer warned failure to deliver vaccine equity will not end the pandemic.

Covid-19 is like a fire burning in a part of the world and casting embers that are starting fires in other parts of the world. It is a fact that once in a 100 years, we are faced with a moral choice, a moral task to end this. This is our Mandela moment to have equity on our hands,  to advocate, donate and take public health measures to help us. Fighting Covid-19 is a moral test for humanity and us as individuals,” he said.

Chief Executive Officer of WHO Foundation, Anil Soni said the Go Give One campaign started this week, will go well for over a year and could be extended.

“This Go Give One vaccine to someone campaign aims to democratise and contribute funds. A lot of vaccines are not getting to people who need them the most. So we urge you when you receive a vaccine shot and take a selfie, think about the Go Give One campaign and make a donation,” he said.

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