Whole world must benefit from Covid vaccine: WHO chief

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GENEVA, Nov 13, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – The head of the World Health
Organization hailed the rapid progress towards a Covid-19 vaccine but
insisted Friday that every country must reap the benefits.

“A vaccine will be a vital tool for controlling the pandemic, and
we’re encouraged by the preliminary results of clinical trials
released this week,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, in closing the
WHO’s annual assembly.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech
announced Monday that their candidate vaccine had proven 90 percent
effective in ongoing final phase trials involving more than 40,000
people, less than a year after the novel coronavirus emerged in China.

“Never in history has vaccine research progressed so quickly. We
must apply the same urgency and innovation to ensuring that all
countries benefit from this scientific achievement,” said Tedros.

The coronavirus has killed nearly 1.3 million people worldwide while
more than 52.7 million cases have been registered, according to a
tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

However, the tallies probably reflect only a fraction of the actual
number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or
the most serious cases.

– Shared pathogens lab plan –

Tedros said the pandemic had shown there was an urgent need for “a
globally-agreed system for sharing pathogen materials and clinical
samples”, to facilitate the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines,
diagnostics and therapeutics as “global public goods”.

He said the system could not wait for bilateral agreements that
could take years to negotiate.

“We are proposing a new approach that would include a repository for
materials housed by WHO in a secure Swiss facility; an agreement that
sharing materials into this repository is voluntary; that WHO can
facilitate the transfer and use of the materials; and a set of
criteria under which WHO would distribute them,” said Tedros.

The UN health agency’s director-general thanked Thailand and Italy for
offering to provide materials and pioneer the new approach, and
Switzerland for offering a laboratory.

WHO member states on Friday approved a resolution on strengthening
preparedness for health emergencies.

The resolution calls on countries “to prioritise at the highest
political level the improvement of, and coordination for, health
emergency preparedness.”

It also urges countries to continue developing their capacities for
detecting infectious diseases, in compliance with the International
Health Regulations.

– Sounding the alarm –

The regulations on global health security, approved in 2005 and
entering into force two years later, notably regulate how a public
health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) is declared.

They also include specific measures to be implemented at ports,
airports and border posts in order to limit the spread of risk.

Several voices were raised questioning the effectiveness of this
process in attempting to prevent or rein in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Washington accused Tedros of being too slow to declare a PHEIC over
the new coronavirus. The WHO chief himself has been critical of its
binary on-or-off nature, with no levels of alert in between.

The resolution adopted on Friday asks Tedros to seek possible
“complementary mechanisms” that could be used to alert member states
“about the severity and/or magnitude of a public health emergency in
order to mobilise necessary support and to facilitate international
coordination”.

He is expected to deliver his ideas at the next WHO annual meeting.

Besides discussing the pandemic, the WHO assembly agreed on a new
plan to defeat meningitis by 2030; increased action on epilepsy and
other neurological disorders; and a strategy to speed up the
elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.