Global immunization by 2022 a “reasonable prospect” given fair vaccine distribution

  • World Health Organization, UNICEF, President of Senegal, DP World emphasize crucial challenges in ensuring equitable distribution of vaccine at WGS Dialogues
  • HE Macky Sall: While 525,000 Senegalese will get vaccine through COVAX, eight million need access to vaccines
  • David Nabarro: selfishness of “vaccine nationalization” will prevent quicker global recovery
  • His Excellency Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem: Western countries have reserved 9 billion of available 12 billion vaccines, though they comprise just 14% of global population
  • Henrietta Fore: At least end-2022 before we vaccinate majority of the population, particularly in least developed countries

Dubai, UAE: The world’s leading healthcare experts and key stakeholders today delivered an impassioned plea for an equitable solution to global vaccination against COVID-19, in a virtual session titled ‘Will the Earth’s Population be Vaccinated by 2021’ on Day 2 of the World Government Summit Dialogues.

The session drew the participation of His Excellency Macky Sall, President of Senegal, His Excellency Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of DP World, Henrietta Holsman Fore, Executive Director of United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and Dr David Nabarro, Special Envoy on COVID-19 of World Health Organization (WHO). John Defterios, CNN anchor and presenter, moderated the session.

Highlighting the urgent challenge for the West African nation of Senegal, His Excellency Macky Sall said: “While 525,000 people will get the vaccine through the COVAX initiative, we need to vaccinate eight million.”

The Senegalese President said the country has so far received 124,000 doses of the vaccine. Since mid-February, 65,000 people have been vaccinated. The country plans to vaccinate 3% of its frontline workers this year and up to 60% of its population in collaboration with the African Union by the end of the program.

Senegal is one of the beneficiaries of the UNICEF managed COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO). The initiative aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. In total, COVAX aims to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, including at least 1.3 billion to the 92 economies eligible for support through the COVAX AMC.

Although Senegal has a grant to vaccinate 20% of the population at present, President Sall urged the initiative to consider at facilitating supplies to vaccinate 30%, effective immediately.

He noted that people of Senegal are angry at not having greater access, and the end of the year is looking increasingly difficult in terms of even achieving the current vaccination target. Highlighting the challenge Senegal faced with not even a Central Bank to support people who had suffered huge losses during the pandemic, he hoped that the country would also be provided financial support, including the deferring of global debt as it continues to rebuild its fractured economy.

To a question on how to achieve scale with the vaccine, His Excellency Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem said: “With the availability of the vaccine, the pandemic as such is in the past. Now it is a matter of the distribution – it is the biggest challenge we face since World War II – it is very sad to note that out of 12 billion available vaccine doses, the western countries have reserved 9 billion, although they account for only 14% of the population. This endeavor requires collaboration and many countries in Africa – land locked countries – don’t have access.”

Meanwhile, Henrietta Holsman Fore said: “We still need to do more – the UAE has supported the COVAX Facility in the actual distribution – in Ghana last week, it provided 2,500 fridges to help in the cold chain. We, as one world, need to ensure equitability, and although we are off to a good start with the target of 2 billion doses a year, it is likely to be at least end-2022 before we vaccinate a majority of the population – particularly in the least developed countries. Licensing is equally a challenge here.”

For his part, David Nabarro criticized the rampant nationalization and selfishness when it came to vaccine distribution, saying: “None of us are safe until we are all safe. None of us will be prosperous until we all have an opportunity to participate in global economic recovery. The only way to achieve this is together because the virus is not staying constant – it is changing all the time. Also, the current scenario with vaccine supplies is not enough – a small number of nations trying to outbid one another – unfortunately, this free for all approach doesn’t work. Unless we do this as a global coordinated program, we will have to wonder six months down the line where we went wrong.”

He urged the world’s nations to use global mechanisms, such as the G7, G20, the Security Council and the African Union, to collate a global response that ensures a safe vaccine through efficient logistics is delivered to the world’s majority. He recommended that 5% of the current vaccine supplies in the developed world should be set aside for developing countries.

“While the COVAX effort is commendable, and can work well – if a few countries take the majority of the supplies and leave minimal cash and vaccine supplies behind for the rest, this is not ethical,” he said. “Let’s get everyone to focus on fair access to vaccine for everybody – then realistically the objective for immunization – at least by 2022 is a reasonable prospect. We have successfully achieved a global response with smallpox, polio, ebola, and SARS – so why are we not using this mechanism and working together to overcome COVID?”

He noted that historically, it has been proven that in armed conflicts and pandemics, if you are a poor country, you don’t come out of it as well as if you were rich. “We cannot continue to pretend it is up to individual countries,” he continued. “Senegal should have as much ability to access vaccines as the UK, and world progress depends on equity and trust – I am concerned for not just my own generation but for the future generations – the World Government Summit must mean the coming together of the world as one voice to shape a global response – not as 193+ countries.”

Concurring with him, Sultan Bin Sulayem noted that the Senegalese economy was suffering and that the international community needed to come together to help poorer countries through delaying and restructuring debt, offering economic aid and facilitating them in manufacturing the vaccine.

To a question on whether there was trust in the vaccines being made available in his country, the President of Senegal said that greater solidarity from more nations around the world would go a long way in helping Senegal to recover from what has been a challenging year. Even the richest countries of the world that sent spaceships to outer space were caught unawares and unable to get vaccines in time to save their people, emphasizing that no country can face this alone.

He thanked the G20 initiative on postponing payment of debt, but suggested that more needed to be done with unemployment in his country set to explode and have global ramifications. He also highlighted that Africa has been producing vaccines against yellow fever since the 1970s – and with the right support and knowledge transfer, could produce vaccines in increased quantities and save its population.

Henrietta Fore concluded the session pointing out that the next six months to one year will be crucial and determine the effectiveness of the global response in quelling the pandemic. She said: “The world has a real chance to do it well as one force – this will help Africa and other nations in boosting funding, manufacturing capacity, and distribution. Clearly, for maximum impact, the light at the end of the tunnel that comes from the vaccine has to shine for all.”