READ – WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the WTO – WHO High Level Dialogue: Expanding COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacture To Promote Equitable Access

21 July 2021

My sister Dr Ngozi, dear Mr Tang,

Excellencies, members of the private sector, dear colleagues and friends,

First of all, I would like to thank you, my sister Ngozi, and your colleagues at WTO for organizing this very important dialogue, and for your strong leadership in addressing the vaccine crisis.

I’m speaking to you from Tokyo, where earlier this morning I had the honour of addressing the International Olympic Committee.

I told them that I had come to Tokyo to answer a question that I am often asked: when will the pandemic end?

And my answer was simple: it will end when the world chooses to end it, because the solutions are in our hands.

We have all the tools we need: proven public health and social measures; rapid and accurate diagnostics; effective therapeutics including oxygen; and of course, powerful vaccines.

And yet as we speak, we are in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths.

The Delta variant is wreaking havoc around the world.

Between now and when we finish our discussion today, more than 1500 people will die from COVID-19.

How can this be, 19 months into the pandemic, and 7 months since the first vaccines were approved?

Without doubt, the development, approval and rollout of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 less than a year after the first reported cases is a stunning scientific achievement, and a much-needed source of hope for bringing the pandemic under control.

And I would like to use this opportunity to thank the leaders of the private sector, the manufacturers who have joined us today. Congratulations for this very historic achievement.

But there remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines. This has created a two-track pandemic: the haves are opening up, while the have-nots are locking down.

Over 3.5 billion vaccines have been distributed globally, but more than 75 percent of those have gone to just ten countries.

Vaccine inequity is not only a moral failure, it is also epidemiologically and economically self-defeating. Of course, vaccines alone cannot solve the pandemic. Rapid diagnostics and life- saving therapeutics are also vital.

Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting with DG Ngozi, my sister, and DG Tang to commit to working together more closely to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

We committed to intensified capacity building and providing robust joint technical assistance to countries on COVID-19 health, intellectual property and trade-related matters.  

Ngozi and I also are working closely together to advocate for immediate, innovative and sustainable solutions to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines and other technologies.

Our global targets are to vaccinate at least 10% of the population of every country by September, at least 40% by the end of the year, and 70% by mid-next year. These are the critical milestones we must reach together to end the pandemic.

To reach those targets, we need 11 billion doses of vaccine. Urgent dose sharing is vital to fill our current supply gap. But dose sharing is a short-term solution.

We must spare no effort to increase vaccine supply for lower-income countries. We need to dramatically scale up the number of vaccines being produced.

This can be done by removing the barriers to scaling up manufacturing, including through technology transfer, freeing up supply chains, and IP waivers. 

I want to emphasise that WHO values highly the role of the private sector in the pandemic and in every area of health. The intellectual property system plays a vital role in fostering innovation of new tools to save lives.

But this pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that demands unprecedented action. With so many lives on the line, profits and patents must come second.

Of course, we can’t snatch your property. What we’re proposing is for high-income countries to provide incentives to the private sector because you deserve recognition, and we don’t want you to have financial problems because of IP waiver.

WHO and our partners have also established a COVAX manufacturing taskforce, to increase supply in the short term, but also to build a platform for sustainable vaccine manufacturing to support regional health security.

As part of these efforts, this month, WHO and our COVAX partners announced the first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, to be set up in South Africa.

WHO is also calling for expressions of interest to establish technology transfer hubs to assist countries acquire vaccine technology and know-how as rapidly as possible.

We are calling on funders and industry to facilitate voluntary, transparent and non-exclusive licensing of patents, transfer of know-how and data through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP.

WHO has prequalified numerous health technologies including vaccines from manufacturers in middle-income countries. These manufacturers have shown that they can produce according to international standards of quality, safety and efficacy.

Through C-TAP, we will continue to provide technical assistance to companies to build capacity, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.


My friends,

There are many diseases for which we lack vaccines, good tests and effective treatments.

Not so for COVID-19. We have all the tools we need.

That means ending the pandemic is not fundamentally a test of scientific discovery, financial muscle or industrial prowess; it’s a test of character.

Let’s together address the serious challenge of vaccine inequity. Please help us achieve this 70% target of vaccinating the population in all countries.

I know we can do it, and I expect a strong support from the private sector to realise the 70% by mid-next year that could help us end the pandemic.

Whatever options we use, the most important is increasing the production capacity significantly so there is enough pie to share, there are enough vaccines to achieve the 70% by mid-next year and open up the world and bring lives and livelihoods to normality.

I wish us all a very productive discussion.

Thank you so much again, and I hope to have very candid exchanges.

I thank you

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