WHO calls for other steps to ease COVAX vaccine access

At a press briefing today, the World Health Organization's (WHO) top official said money isn't the only obstacle to getting vaccines to lower income countries through the COVAX program, designed to offer equitable access to tamp down the COVID-19 activity across the globe.

In other developments, the WHO pleaded with Tanzania to report on its COVID-19 situation and describe measures it's taking, as some countries in Europe looked toward easing measures, while a few other nations tracked rising cases.

Higher income countries snap up vaccine supplies

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO's director-general, today expressed deep appreciation for G7 countries and the European Union for $4.3 billion in additional financing for COVAX and said several G7 nations have also committed to sharing doses. "The G7 countries have shown leadership, but we need all countries to step up," he said. "We still face a gap of at least $22.9 billion dollars to fully finance the ACT Accelerator this year."

The ACT Accelerator, which includes COVAX, is a global effort to speed the development of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.

Money isn't the only challenge COVAX faces, Tedros said, emphasizing that another problem is lack of vaccine to buy. He said some high-income countries are signing new contacts with vaccine makers that undermine the deals that COVAX has with the companies, a situation that reduces the number of doses that COVAX can purchase.

"This is not a matter of charity. It's a matter of epidemiology," he said, warning that the longer the virus circulates, the more opportunity it has to change in ways that could make affect vaccine response. "Unless we end the pandemic everywhere, we will not end it anywhere."

Tedros also pushed more countries to share doses and for vaccine makers to prioritize their contracts with COVAX and to ramp up production.

WHO airs concerns over COVID-19 in Tanzania

Over the weekend, Tedros extended condolences to Tanzania for the deaths of two of the country's officials, but urged the country to step up its public health actions and prepare for vaccinations.

Recent media reports suggest that the Tanzania officials died from COVID-19, and the country's president has downplayed the virus, claiming that it will defeat the virus with God's help.

In a Feb 20 statement, he also pushed the country to share data about the disease, given reports of COVID-19 cases in people who have been in the country, posing a threat not only to Tanzanians, but to the wider global community. "This situation remains very concerning," Tedros said.

In other global headlines:

  • Europe's cases have declined, but some countries report hot spots, such as France, where the French Rivera, including the city of Nice, will be locked down over the next two weekends to curb the rise in infections, according to the New York Times. Elsewhere in Europe, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson today laid out a four-step plan to ease the country's lockdown, starting with school reopening on Mar 8 with further steps extending into the spring and middle of summer, according to the BBC. And in Germany, schools reopened today, with the country experiencing a small rise in cases.
  • India's Maharashtra state, one of a few locations in the country where cases are rising, is tightening some of its restrictions has ordered a night curfew for some cities, according to Reuters.
  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duerte signaled that COVID-19 restrictions will continue for Manila until mass vaccinations begin, according to Reuters.
  • The global COVID-19 total today rose to 111,633,620 cases, along with 2,471,494 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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