Published: 15:01, September 23, 2020 | Updated: 16:27, June 5, 2023
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WHO chief stresses vaccine plan benefits
By ​Bo Leung in London

In this July 3, 2020 file photo, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (FABRICE COFFRINI / POOL / AFP)

The World Health Organization's director-general said on Monday its COVAX plan, the global program for the fair distribution of future vaccines, would ensure priority goes to those most at risk.

There are some 200 vaccines for COVID-19 currently in clinical and pre-clinical testing, according to the WHO

Speaking at a WHO news conference on Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "The overarching goal of the COVAX Facility is to ensure that all countries have access to vaccines at the same time, and that priority is given to those most at risk, including health workers, older people and others at the highest risk."

Tedros said that the plan will help bring the pandemic under control and stressed that the race for a vaccine is a global effort and not a contest that only the rich can win.

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"The COVAX Facility enables governments to spread the risk of vaccine development and ensure their populations can have early access to effective vaccines," Tedros said.

"Even more importantly, the COVAX Facility is the mechanism that will enable a globally coordinated roll-out for the greatest possible impact. The COVAX Facility will help to bring the pandemic under control, save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a collaboration, not a contest."

He added: "The fastest route to ending the pandemic and accelerating the global economic recovery is to ensure some people are vaccinated in all countries, not all people in some countries."

The director-general said the aim is to have 2 billion doses of vaccine by the end of 2021.

There are some 200 vaccines for COVID-19 currently in clinical and pre-clinical testing, according to the WHO.

Although the WHO is encouraged to see a large number of countries signed up to the COVAX Facility, Tedros admitted there are still challenges ahead.

"For the ACT Accelerator to work as planned, it must be funded. So far, US$3 billion has been invested. This has resulted in a very successful start-up phase, but it is only a tenth of the remaining US$35 billion needed for scale-up and impact," he said, pointing out that US$15 billion is needed to "maintain momentum and stay on track for our ambitious timelines".

"Our challenge now is to take the tremendous promise of the ACT Accelerator and COVAX to scale," Tedros said.

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The director-general noted WHO estimates that "once an effective vaccine has been distributed, and international travel and trade is fully restored, the economic gains will far outweigh the $38 billion investment required for the ACT Accelerator".

In marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, Tedros said the WHO had three messages.

"First, the pandemic must motivate us to redouble our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, not become an excuse for missing them. Second, we must prepare for the next pandemic now. And third, we must move heaven and earth to ensure equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines," he said.