A globally coordinated rollout of a coronavirus vaccine will be in the “interests of all countries”, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) director general has said.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned against “vaccine nationalism” and said global competition to create one could lead to prices spiking “exponentially”, which would only prolong the virus.
Instead, he urged countries to support the Covax vaccines facility, which has the “largest and most diverse” Covid-19 vaccine portfolio in the world.
He told a WHO press briefing on Monday that 172 countries were “engaging” with the mechanism, which aims to deliver at least two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021.
Dr Tedros said: “We’re working with vaccine manufacturers to provide all countries that join the effort timely and equitable access to all vaccines, licensed and approved.
“This doesn’t just pool risk, it also means that prices will be kept as low as possible.
“New research outlines that global competition for vaccine doses could lead to prices spiking exponentially in comparison to collaborative efforts, such as the Covax facility.
“It would also lead to a prolonged pandemic as only a small number of countries would get most of the supply. Vaccine nationalism only helps the virus.”
Covax aims to ensure that low, middle and high-income countries all receive the vaccine in a “timely way” as soon as there is enough supply, Dr Tedros said.
However, he warned that the scheme’s success hinged not only on countries signing up to it, but also “filling key funding gaps” for research and development work, and to support the lower-income economies involved.
“This is in the interests of all countries, even those that have invested with individual manufacturers independently,” Dr Tedros said.
The WHO previously said the UK was one of several countries that had submitted “expressions of interest” in the programme.
Nine vaccines are currently part of the Covax portfolio, while discussions were ongoing with four other producers, Dr Tedros said.
The scheme is being led by WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the vaccine alliance Gavi.
Health workers, those over 65, and people with certain diseases who are most at risk of dying with coronavirus will be the first to receive a vaccine, Dr Tedros added.
“As supply increases, the next stage of the vaccine rollout would be expanded based on an assessment of each country’s vulnerability to the virus,” he said.
“In order to be able to secure enough doses to rollout the vaccines, the next step for the partnership is for countries to make binding commitments in support of the Covax facility.”
He said more funding was “urgently needed” to move the “vaccine portfolio” forward.
Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to WHO’s director general, said countries need to submit an “expression of intent” to join Covax by August 31, followed by confirmation of intent by September 18, and to have “initial payments in place” by October 9.