The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the pandemic may not end if countries engage in a growing trend of vaccine nationalism.
One year since the WHO declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “we will not end the pandemic anywhere until we end it everywhere”.
Dr Tedros’ comments came after the European Union announced it would control exports of vaccines to a list of countries including Australia, sparking fears of global battles to secure vaccine supplies.
Germany is already ordering vaccines for 2022 amid supply shortages and growing frustration in Europe at the slow pace of vaccination.
Dr Tedros warned the world was in danger of squandering its best opportunity to end the pandemic.
“A year ago, I said the world had a ‘window of opportunity’ to prevent widespread transmission of this new virus. Some countries heeded that call; some did not”, he told journalists.
“Now, vaccines are giving us another window of opportunity to bring the pandemic under control. We must not squander it.
“There is now the real danger that the very tools that could help to end the pandemic – vaccines – may exacerbate those same inequalities.
“Vaccine nationalism might serve short-term political goals. But it’s ultimately short-sighted and self-defeating.”
1 year ago today, @DrTedros declared that the outbreak of #COVID19 constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, the highest level of alarm 🚨 under international law.⁰pic.twitter.com/sszevdIC4A
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 30, 2021
Dr Tedros said the pandemic would not be over until it ended everywhere and highlighted that there were more COVID cases in the past two weeks than the first six months of the pandemic.
“The world has come to a critical turning point in the pandemic”, Dr Tedros said.
“But it’s also a turning point in history: faced with a common crisis, can nations come together in a common approach?”
Global infections to date total more than 102 million and there have been more than 2.2 million deaths. The worst-affected countries are the USA, India, Brazil, the UK and Russia.
Australia’s rollout on track
Australia’s acting chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd said Australia was reaching out across the world to ensure continuity of supplies.
It is understood the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is seeking information and making strong representations on behalf of Australia to the WHO, the EU and European officials.
“This is why (Health Minister Greg) Hunt is keeping in contact with the country leads of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca on a day-to-day basis to ensure that we continue to have certainty about the offshore production, but also the shipping of the doses of two vaccines to Australia,” he said on Saturday.
Professor Kidd confirmed onshore production of AstraZeneca would begin in March subject to approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Up to 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are due in Australia from overseas in March, while 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be available each week from late-February.
“These projections already take into account the global supply challenges for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and the European regulatory proposals,” Mr Kidd said.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester earlier said the federal government would also be making its case to the World Health Organisation.
“Now as we understand our situation here in Australia, right now we are on track, we have brought forward the approval process, it’s been fully approved in terms of distribution of the vaccine we expect to roll out towards the end of February,” Mr Chester told ABC News on Saturday.
“These supply shocks were not unexpected given the nature of the virus,” he added.
The restrictions give EU citizens priority and commit the pharmaceutical giants to seeking approval before sending doses outside the European Union.