News WHO says 172 countries back plan for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

WHO says 172 countries back plan for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says more funding is needed now to make binding commitments. Photo: AAP
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Some 172 countries are engaging with the COVAX facility designed to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, the World Health Organisation says.

But more funding is needed and countries now need to make binding commitments, it said on Monday.

Countries wishing to be part of the global COVAX plan have until August 31 to submit expressions of interest, WHO officials said.

Confirmation of intention to join is due by September 18, and initial payments are due by October 9.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the facility was critical to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and would not only pool risk for countries developing and buying vaccines, but also ensure prices are kept “as low as possible”.

“Vaccine nationalism only helps the virus,” he told a media briefing on Monday.

“The success of the COVAX facility hinges not only on countries signing up to it, but also filling key funding gaps.”

COVAX is co-led by the GAVI vaccines alliance, the WHO and the CEPI Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and is designed to guarantee equitable access globally to COVID-19 vaccines once they are developed and authorised for use.

It currently covers nine candidate COVID-19 vaccines and its aim is to secure supplies of and deliver two billion doses across countries that sign up by the end of 2021.

“Initially, when there will be limited supply (of COVID-19 vaccines), it’s important to provide the vaccine to those at highest risk around the globe,” Tedros said.

He said this included health workers on the front lines of the pandemic, who were “critical to saving lives and stabilising the overall health system”.

The WHO call comes as Downing Street insists the UK will be first in line for a coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University if it’s proven to be effective.

The Oxford vaccine, which is one of 160 in development around the world, is being developed by Oxford University scientists and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which signed a letter of intent with Australia.

Australian health officials and AstraZeneca have since declined to comment on whether the pharma company is seeking indemnification against potential liability arising from any side effects of its vaccine candidate.

A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday: “We have been clear that we will only roll out a vaccine once it is deemed safe and effective by our regulators.”

“AstraZeneca have entered into a number of agreements with other countries, they have the global licensing agreement with Oxford, but we have been clear: Once it has been found to be effective, we have signed a deal for 100 million doses which means that once it is effective the UK will get first access.”