Aug. 6, 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 4 August 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 4 August 2021

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

In January of this year, a midwife from Uganda called Harriet Nayiga joined our press conference to talk about her experience as a health worker during the pandemic.

While vaccines were being rolled out in the wealthiest countries, Harriet was one of many health workers in Africa and around the world who was still waiting for her turn to be vaccinated.

At the time, Uganda – like much of Africa – had relatively few cases of COVID-19.

But starting in May of this year, Uganda experienced a surge in cases and deaths, as variants tore through a largely unvaccinated population.

This morning, Harriet sent us this email:

“I got my first shot and am yet to receive the second.

“The situation was tough for the last two months, where over 2000 people died so far, including health workers.

“We hope that the vaccines will be able to reach different parts of the country and hope that people will be responsible enough and go for vaccination.

“Otherwise, COVID is spreading, though people are now moving to work in order to earn a living, since the majority depend on hand to mouth.”

This is the reality for hundreds of millions of people around the world – they cannot afford to stay at home. They work to eat.

These populations need vaccines urgently, especially health workers, older people and other vulnerable groups.

And yet even while hundreds of millions of people are still waiting for their first dose, some rich countries are moving towards booster doses.

So far, more than 4 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally. More than 80% have gone to high- and upper-middle income countries, even though they account for less than half of the world’s population.

I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant.

But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.

In late May, I called for global support for a “sprint to September”, to enable every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September.

We’re now more than halfway to that target date, but we’re not on track.

When I issued that challenge in May, high-income countries had administered around 50 doses for every 100 people. Since then, that number has doubled. High-income countries have now administered almost 100 doses for every 100 people.

Meanwhile, low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supply.

We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.

Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated.

To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.

The G20 has a vital leadership role to play, as the countries that are the biggest producers, the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of COVID-19 vaccines.

It’s no understatement to say that the course of the pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20 countries.

One month from now, the G20 health ministers will meet, ahead of the G20 summit in October. I call on them to make concrete commitments to support WHO’s global vaccination targets.

We call on vaccine producers to prioritize COVAX.

And we call on everyone with influence – Olympic athletes, investors, business leaders, faith leaders, and every individual in their own family and community – to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September.

At the same time, we must all remember that vaccines are not the only tool. Indeed, there is no single tool that will defeat this pandemic.

We can only defeat it with a comprehensive approach of vaccines
in combination with the proven public health and social measures that we know work.