GENEVA • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has written to every country, urging them to quickly join its global shared vaccine programme – and spelt out who would get its eventual coronavirus jabs first.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said that without vaccinating the planet’s highest-risk populations simultaneously, it would be impossible to rebuild the global economy.
He said the most exposed 20 per cent of each country’s population – including front-line health workers, adults aged over 65 and those with pre-existing conditions – would be targeted in the first wave of vaccinations, once the WHO-led Covax shared facility can roll out a proven safe and effective vaccine.
Germany and France want to give more money and power to WHO after the pandemic underscored longstanding financial and legal weaknesses at the United Nations agency, an internal document seen by Reuters shows.
The proposed reforms could already be discussed at WHO in mid-September, three officials familiar with the talks told Reuters, in a fast timeline that would confirm the two European powers’ growing concerns about the organisation, which they also see as excessively subject to external influences.
In a joint paper circulated among diplomats involved in the reform talks, Berlin and Paris said WHO’s mandate, which includes preventing outbreaks across the world and helping governments tackle them, was not backed up by sufficient financial resources and legal powers. “Not only during the current pandemic, it has become clear that the WHO partly lacks the abilities to fulfil this mandate,” the document seen by Reuters said.
The Franco-German reform plan is focused on strengthening WHO, in part to empower it to be able to be more critical of member states if they do not honour global rules on transparency in reporting health and disease issues.
On Tuesday, Dr Tedros told a virtual press conference: “The fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest-risk populations everywhere, rather than the entire populations of just some countries.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 780,000 people and infected over 22 million since the outbreak emerged in China late last year.
The most exposed population in each country targeted in the first wave of vaccinations.
Number of countries that signed up to Covax – an effort to pool the costs and rewards of finding, producing and distributing effective vaccines. Another 80 have expressed interest but have yet to commit.
Number of people infected since the outbreak emerged in China late last year.
Number of people the coronavirus has killed
Researchers and pharmaceutical giants are racing to produce a vaccine, with nine of the 29 currently being tested on humans forming part of the Covax Global Vaccines Facility. “If there’s a winner in vaccines, we’ll have one; there’s absolutely no question,” WHO adviser Bruce Aylward said.
Some 92 countries are signed up to Covax – an effort to pool the costs and rewards of finding, producing and distributing effective vaccines – while another 80 have expressed interest but have yet to commit. WHO wants countries to signal a firm interest by Aug 31.
Dr Tedros said that vaccine allocation would be rolled out in two phases. In the first phase, doses would be allocated proportionally to all participating countries simultaneously to reduce the overall global risk. In the second, individual countries’ threat and vulnerability levels will come into play.
Dr Tedros said front-line workers in health and social care settings would get first-phase priority “as they are essential to treat and protect the population, and come in close contact with high-mortality risk groups”. In the absence of a vaccine, WHO scotched notions that 50 per cent of people having developed resistance to the virus would be enough to achieve “herd immunity” and stop transmission.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS