At U.S.-hosted COVID-19 summit, WHO Director General tells President Biden: we need 2 billion vaccine doses for low- and lower- middle income countries, ‘right now’

The Director General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom on Wednesday thanked U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for donating more vaccine doses to the world than all other countries combined, adding that despite the generosity of the U.S. government, at least 2 billion doses are needed right now to hit vaccination targets.

“We need an ironclad global commitment today to support the vaccination of at least 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70% by mid-2022,” the WHO chief said at the U.S.-hosted COVID-19 summit. “To reach that target, we need 2 billion doses for low- and lower- middle income countries, right now.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General 
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General

Dr. Tedros, who thanked President Biden “for bringing us together, for your leadership and commitment to multilateralism and global health,” acknowledged that two-thirds of vaccine doses shared with countries so far via COVAX have come from the United States.

He said, “Earlier this year, WHO set the world a challenge, to vaccinate 10% of the population of every country by the end of September, 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year. Almost 90% of wealthier countries have now reached the 10% target. But 50 countries will not get there, mostly in Africa.

“High-income countries have pledged more than 1 billion doses, but less than 15% of those doses have materialised. Of those 1 billion pledged doses, only 120 million have been shipped through COVAX so far. Two-thirds of those have been donated by the US. Thank you, Mr President, also for your announcement today of a further 500 million doses.

“We need an ironclad global commitment today to support the vaccination of at least 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70% by mid-2022. As the President said, we can do this.

“To reach that target, we need 2 billion doses for low- and lower- middle income countries, right now, as the Secretary-General said.

“We call on the countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines to swap their near-term vaccine deliveries with COVAX and AVAT; to fulfil their dose-sharing pledges immediately; and to facilitate the immediate sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property.”

The WHO chief asserted that vaccines alone will not end the coronavirus pandemic as they need to be combined with public health measures.

“We have many other tools to stop transmission and save lives: effective public health tools, and effective medical tools. We must use them all,” he said, before calling on the international community to “fully and urgently fund all ACT Accelerator partners to scale tests, oxygen and other commodities countries need, and the capacities to use them effectively.”

More broadly, Dr. Tedros said the world needs “better governance, better financing, better systems and tools,” and “a stronger, sustainably financed and empowered WHO at the centre of the global health architecture – all underpinned by equity.”

“We owe it to those who have lost their lives to this virus to make the lasting change the world needs for a safer, fairer and healthier future – together,” he added.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, Tuesday, September 21, 2021. It was President Joe Biden first address at the UNGA since inauguration on January 20, 2021. Photo/Reuters 
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, Tuesday, September 21, 2021. It was President Joe Biden first address at the UNGA since inauguration on January 20, 2021. Photo/Reuters

Speaking earlier at the COVID-19 summit earlier in the day, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced that the United States will purchase an additional 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNtech and share them with lower-income countries via COVAX. With the new purchase, the United States plans to donate in total nearly 1.1 billion vaccine doses to the world to help beat the still raging pandemic.

In addition, Biden said the United States will also provide an additional $370 million to support administering COVID-19 shots and deliver them globally.

He added that the United States will also be providing more than $380 million to the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) to “further facilitate vaccine distribution to regions with the greatest needs.”

President Biden said the United States will also be providing nearly $1.4 billion to reduce COVID-19 deaths and mitigate transmissions through bulk oxygen support, expanded testing, strengthening healthcare system and more.

President Biden made the announcement at a virtual summit on COVID-19 the United States is hosting.

“We can do this,” President Biden said, adding that the U.S. has shared more vaccines with the world than all other countries combined.

“We’re going to lead with the power of our example and we’re not going to stop,” Biden said.

Some African leaders in attendance included the head of the Africa CDC John Nkengasong, the Director General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. There are also heads of state from many nations from around the world.

In his first address at the United Nations on Tuesday, President Biden said the United States has already shared more than 160 million COVID-19 doses with other countries and spent over $15 billion on the global coronavirus response.

“Already, the United States has put more than $15 billion toward global COVID ()the global COVID response. We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply and the first tranches of the half a billion doses of Pfizer vaccine we purchased to donate through COVAX,” President Biden said in his address. “Planes carrying vaccines from the United States have already landed in 100 countries, bringing people all over the world a little “dose of hope,” as one American nurse termed it to me.  A “dose of hope,” direct from the American people — and, importantly, no strings attached.”
 
Biden told the UN General Assembly that on Wednesday at the U.S.-hosted Global COVID-19 Summit, “I’ll be announcing additional commitments as we seek to advance the fight against COVID-19 and hold ourselves accountable around specific targets on three key challenges: saving lives now, vaccinating the world, and building back better.”

The new vaccine donations will also go through COVAX, adding that the allocations for every country and continent, including Africa, will be determined later on.

President Biden will urge other world leaders to “step up” to beat the worst pandemic in more than 100 years and ensure than 70 percent of the world’s population is vaccinated by next year.

In response to THE Global Covid-19 Summit: Ending the Pandemic and Building Back Better, where US President Biden and EU President Von der Leyen announced new commitments to donate an additional 900 million to low and lower-middle income countries by September 2022, Amnesty International said the vaccines should be donated right now, and not next year.

“Fair access to Covid-19 vaccines across the world is our only pathway out of this crisis so we welcome the news that the USA and the EU have committed to new targets in the fight against this pandemic,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard. “Ensuring everyone in all countries, rich and poor, can be vaccinated is an essential goal to keep us all safe, but the world is already miles off track from the World Health Organization’s current target of ensuring 40% of people in lower-income countries are vaccinated by the end of this year.”

Callamard said today’s summit produced large pledges of vaccines that will eventually save lives, “but inexplicably delays delivering the vast majority of them until well into 2022. Why wait to act when hundreds of millions of doses are available today and people are dying right now?”

She added, “The US and EU have together pledged over 1.6 billion vaccine doses – but not until far into 2022. With the right level of urgency and political will, a huge number of these doses could be shared in the next few months – especially as they are projected to be sitting on around 900 million surplus doses by the end of the year. 

“Other countries such as UK, Canada and Japan must also step up and make much more ambitious contributions if they are to get serious about meeting the WHO goal for 2021.

“It is essential states and companies work together to deliver 2 billion vaccines to lower-income countries by the end of this year and Amnesty International is calling for a concrete plan detailing when the vaccines are going to be shared and where. If immediate action isn’t taken now, millions more lives will be lost.” 

As of last week, only 3.5 percent of people had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Africa, according to the Director of the Africa CDC, Dr. John Nkengasong, who spoke at a press conference where the World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and a group of global health leaders issued an urgent call for vaccine equity globally and in Africa in particular.

The group of global health leaders stressed that the worst pandemic in the last hundred years will not end unless and until there is genuine global cooperation on vaccine supply and access, and reiterated the WHO’s global vaccination target for 70% of the population of all countries to be vaccinated by mid-2022. 

The leaders also acknowledged that safe and effective vaccines alone cannot solve the coronavirus pandemic, asserting that public health and social measures are also vital to beat COVID-19 and accelerate global recovery. 

Those public health measures include a robust surveillance supported by rapid diagnostics, early clinical care and life- saving therapeutics, provided by well-trained health workers who are able to work in safe conditions.

At the press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was joined by Dr Seth Berkley, CEO, Gavi; Strive Masiyiwa, AU Special Envoy for COVID-19; Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa; Dr John Nkengasong, Africa CDC Director; Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Afreximbank and Dr Vera Songwe, United Nations Under- Secretary- General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission For Africa.

The press conference followed two days of meetings among the leaders, with Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of CEPI joining the meetings as well.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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