Dec. 6, 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the USAID Development Ministerial on COVID-19


WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the USAID Development Ministerial on COVID-19
6 December 2021

Your Excellency Ambassador Power,

Dr Rochelle Walensky,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Let me begin by thanking you, Administrator Power, and the United States government, for bringing us together today, building on the Foreign Ministerial hosted by Secretary Blinken a month ago, and the summit hosted by President Biden in September.

And we thank the United States for its generosity. The majority of vaccines donated to COVAX so far have been donated by the United States.

This Wednesday marks one year since the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered.

A year ago, we all hoped that by now vaccines would be helping us all emerge from the long, dark tunnel of the pandemic.

And yet as the Omicron variant demonstrates, the pandemic is from far over.

Persistent vaccine inequity has allowed this to happen.

More than 8 billion doses have now been administered globally – the largest vaccination campaign in history.

But we all know that this incredible achievement has been marred by horrific inequity.

When we established the ACT Accelerator and COVAX last year, it was because we knew from our experience with many other diseases that market forces alone would not lead to equitable access.

High-income countries ordering many times more doses than they needed, combined with export bans, starved COVAX and AVAT of supply.

But we have shown that COVAX and AVAT work, when they have access to vaccines.

COVAX has now shipped more than 600 million doses to 144 countries and territories.

More than 80% of those doses have gone to low- and lower-middle income countries.

As supply increases, COVAX is picking up speed. In the last two months alone, COVAX shipped more doses than in the first 8 months of this year combined.

All but two low and lower-middle income countries have now started to roll out vaccines.

In the coming months, we expect supply to continue increasing.

And as it does, countries will need increased support to scale up capacity for widespread vaccination.

To do that, WHO and UNICEF, in partnership with Gavi, are appointing Mr Ted Chaiban, an experienced humanitarian leader, as global coordinator for country readiness and delivery, to lead an enhanced joint effort to turn vaccines into vaccinations faster.

This effort will be focused on the 40 to 50 countries at highest risk of missing the target to vaccinate 40% of their populations by the end of this year.

For this to work we need high-income countries and development banks to finance WHO, UNICEF and Gavi and countries themselves.

At the same time, the increase in quantity of supply must be matched by an increase in quality of supply.

Too often, countries receive unexpected deliveries of doses close to expiry, with far too little transparency of when doses will arrive, what product will arrive, or how much will arrive.

More than two-thirds of donations are of vaccines with less than three months’ shelf-life remaining.

This hampers countries’ ability to plan, to deploy domestic resources, and to mobilise populations and community leaders.

Yes, we need accountability for how doses are used; but we also need accountability for how doses are donated.

And we must all remember that vaccines alone will not end the pandemic.

The emergence of Omicron highlights the need to scale up equitable access to testing and sequencing, as well as to oxygen and new antivirals.

And yet the ACT Accelerator is currently out of cash, especially to buy tests, oxygen, PPE, and to fund vaccine delivery.

It’s therefore essential that countries fully fund the ACT Accelerator, which needs US$ 23.4 billion over the next 12 months to get tests, treatments and vaccines to where they are needed most.

I also ask that you meet as a matter of urgency every two months to ensure adequate financing, and that you agree today to hold an emergency pledging event in the first quarter of next year to fully finance the ACT Accelerator and the associated in-country delivery costs.

Ultimately, our shared vision must be to strengthen local production of medicines and vaccines, to ensure a reliable and predictable supply of quality, safe, effective and affordable products.

As you know, WHO and our partners have recently established an mRNA technology transfer hub in South Africa to boost vaccine production on the continent.

And we are also providing support to the Africa Medicines Agency, to ensure strong regulatory capacity.

Thank you once again, Administrator Power, for your leadership and for this opportunity.

I look forward to our continued partnership to end this pandemic and to build a healthier, safer, fairer future for all countries.

I thank you.