Jan. 8, 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 8 January 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 8 January 2021

8 January 2021
 
  • COVAX – set up by GAVI, CEPI and WHO in April last year – has now secured contracts of 2 billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, which we are ready to rollout as soon as the vaccines are delivered.  
  • However, this is where the current challenge is. Rich countries have bought up the majority of the supply of multiple vaccines.  Going forward, I want to see manufacturers prioritise supply and rollout through COVAX.  
  • If I said one thing to people in areas where there are high numbers of cases, it would be to do all you can to avoid mixing with people from other households, especially inside.  
  • This year is the year of the health and care worker. Let’s show our respect and appreciation for health workers by protecting each other and vaccinating all health workers everywhere now. 

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

COVAX – set up by GAVI, CEPI and WHO in April last year – has now secured contracts of 2 billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, which we are ready to rollout as soon as the vaccines are delivered.

And we also have the right of first refusal on an additional 1 billion doses.

However, this is where the current challenge is:

At present, 42 countries are rolling out safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. 36 of these are high-income countries and six are middle-income.

So there’s a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet.

This is a problem we can and we must solve together through COVAX and the ACT-Accelerator.

At the outset, rich countries have bought up the majority of the supply of multiple vaccines.

Now we’re also seeing both high and middle-income countries, that are part of COVAX, making additional bilateral deals.

This potentially bumps up the price for everyone and means high-risk people in the poorest and most marginalized countries don’t get the vaccine.

And some companies and countries have not submitted critical data, which we need to issue Emergency Use Listings, which blocks the whole system of procurement and delivery.   

Vaccine nationalism hurts us all and is self-defeating.

But on the flipside, vaccinating equitably saves lives, stablises health systems and would lead to a truly global economic recovery that stimulates job creation.

Importantly, it would also help us limit the virus’ opportunity to mutate.

The current variants show that the virus is doing its best to make itself more suitable to ongoing circulation within the human population.

This is normal of every virus but at present we’re helping it thrive if we don’t reduce transmission and vaccinate equitably.

Going forward, I want to see manufacturers prioritise supply and rollout through COVAX.

I urge countries that have contracted more vaccines than they will need, and are controlling the global supply, to also donate and release them to COVAX immediately, which is ready TODAY to rollout quickly.

And I urge countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX.

No country is exceptional and should cut the queue and vaccinate all their population while some remain with no supply of the vaccine.

Science has delivered, let’s not waste the opportunity to protect lives of those most at risk and ensure all economies have a fair shot at recovery.  

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It is a massive undertaking to ensure health system planning, coordination, training and logistics are set and able to rollout vaccines in the midst of a COVID-19 surge.

The hundred-hundred initiative driven by WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank is supporting over 100 countries to conduct rapid readiness assessments and develop country-specific plans for vaccines deployment. 

And we’ve hit our target, 100 countries have now completed this critical process and the governments and health systems are on standby for global vaccine rollout.

We are ready. COVAX is ready. Countries are ready.

The time to deliver vaccines equitably is now!

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This is a very dangerous time in the course of the pandemic and I do not want to see people become complacent as vaccines are starting to rollout.

Over the past few days, we have seen some of the highest numbers of deaths recorded at any point in the pandemic.

This is happening because, over previous weeks, there has been a lack of compliance with what health authorities are advising in several countries. 

The virus has taken advantage of this and is spreading at alarming rates in some countries.

You might think that you won’t happen to you and that you don’t need to comply with the measures.

The problem is that before you know it, not complying a bit becomes a habit, people you know mimic the behavior and the whole system breaks down.

Not complying with recommended measures gives the virus opportunities to spread, putting you and your loved ones at risk for infection and for more people to develop severe disease, and for more pressure to be put on health workers. 

People need to know that they can personally stop the virus, and they need to know that the virus can stop with them. 

If I said one thing to people in areas where there are high numbers of cases, it would be to do all you can to avoid mixing with people from other households, especially inside.

Because the virus thrives when people gather in groups - especially inside where people are less inclined to physically distance, wear masks and hand wash and where windows aren’t open and there is not adequate ventilation, which means everyone is sharing the same air.

In this difficult period it is best to meet virtually but if you have to meet others, do it carefully and with the right precautions. Meet outside wherever possible.

None of us are exceptional and the more we can break the chains of transmission and stop the virus ourselves, the more we will avoid severe cases and tragic deaths.

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This year is the year of the health and care worker. Let’s show our respect and appreciation for health and care workers by protecting each other and vaccinating all health workers everywhere now.

Remember, ending this pandemic is one of humanities great races, and whether we like it or not, we will win or lose this race together.

I thank you.