Africa: WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks At C40 Mayors Convening – Access to Vaccines – 17 March 2021

Excellencies, Honourable Mayors,

Distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and thank you for the invitation to join you today.

Cities have always been places where health can be both nurtured or destroyed.

And it’s no overstatement to say that cities are where the fight against COVID-19 is being won or lost.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have known that vaccines would be a vital tool for controlling it.

But we also knew from experience that market forces alone would not deliver the equitable distribution of vaccines.

That’s why in April last year we established the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, which includes the COVAX vaccines pillar, a unique partnership between Gavi, CEPI, Unicef, WHO and others.

In total, COVAX has now delivered more than 29 million doses of vaccine to 47 countries.

We expect to deliver a total of 237 million vaccines between now and May.

Still, the rollout of vaccines has not been as equitable as we would have liked.

Globally, 359 million doses of vaccine have been administered, but 76% of those are in just 10 countries.

The success of COVAX is at risk because of the demands that some high-income and upper-middle income countries are putting on the global supply of vaccines.

The emergence of highly-transmissible variants also demonstrates that we cannot end the pandemic anywhere until we end it everywhere.

The more opportunity the virus has to circulate, the more opportunity it has to change in ways that can make vaccines less effective. We could all end up back at square one.

Vaccine equity is not an act of charity; it’s the best and fastest way to control the pandemic globally, and to reboot the global economy.

One of our main priorities now is to increase the ambition of COVAX to help all countries end the pandemic. This means urgent action to ramp up production.

We see four ways to do this.

The first and most short-term approach is to connect vaccine manufacturers with other companies who have excess capacity to fill and finish, to speed up production and increase volumes.

The second is bilateral technology transfer, through voluntary licensing from a company that owns the patents on a vaccine to another company who can produce them, as AstraZeneca has done with SKBio in the Republic of Korea and the Serum Institute of India.

The third approach is coordinated technology transfer, through a global mechanism coordinated by WHO.

This provides more transparency, and a more coherent global approach that contributes to regional health security.

And fourth, many countries with vaccine manufacturing capacity can start producing their own vaccines by waiving intellectual property rights, as proposed by South Africa and India to the World Trade Organization.

The TRIPS Agreement was designed to allow for flexibility on intellectual property rights in the case of emergencies. If now is not the time to use those flexibilities, then when is?

In time, there will be enough vaccine for everyone, but for now, vaccines are a limited resource that we must use effectively and strategically.

And the most effective and strategic way to suppress transmission and save lives globally is by vaccinating some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries.

It’s also important to emphasize that vaccines complement, but do not replace, the proven public health measures that have been the bedrock of the response so far.

Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, supportive quarantine and quality care remain essential components of the public health response.

And physical distancing, masks, hand hygiene and ventilation remain essential precautions for every individual.