172 countries have signed up for vaccine development programme

FILE PHOTO: Small bottles labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

172 countries have signed up to a vaccine development programme, the World Health Organisation announced on Monday. So far, 70% of the world’s population is covered through the list of countries that have signed up.

The programme will ensure the equitable distribution of the coronavirus vaccine once this is successfully found.

The milestone was marked by the sending out of the terms and conditions of the programme on Sunday ahead of the final deadline of August 31 for countries to express their intent on being involved.

Addressing a press briefing on Monday, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained that at present there are nine partnerships to develop vaccines against the novel coronavirus. He added that once the vaccine is found, there would be a global coordinated roll out of the vaccine, ensuring equitable access to all partnering countries to the vaccine.

The director general noted that global competition could lead to a spike in the price of the vaccine. He stressed the need for collaboration.

“Vaccine nationalism will lead to a prolonged pandemic,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during the media briefing. He added that the only way out of the global pandemic is through collaboration.

Explaining how the roll out would happen, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that initially when the production will be low, it would be important to provide the vaccine to those who are considered as high risk. This includes health workers, people aged 65 and over and vulnerable individuals.

Once the supply increases, the vaccination programme would be expanded according to a national assessment, the director general explained.

A number of vaccines are now at their final phase, with the UN agency hoping that these are successful and efficacious against the novel coronavirus.

“Initially, when there will be limited supply, it’s important to provide the vaccine to those at highest risk around the globe,” the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The aim of the COVAX is to deliver 2 billion doses of a safe, viable vaccine by the end of 2021, he said.

Ghebreyesus stressed that it is important to use the tools currently available to curb the spread of the virus – social distancing, contact tracing, testing, isolating, hand hygiene and using of face masks. All of these measures break the chain of transmission, he said.

Important to get people to understand

Asked by Newsbook.com.mt what is the UN agency’s view on making the vaccines mandatory, Dr Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the director-general, said that rather than making mandatory requirements, it is important to ensure that people understand the importance and benefits of getting vaccinated, noting that immunization is in the national domain.

Reopening of schools

Asked about school openings, technical lead Dr Maria Van Kerkhove highlighted that schools operate in a community.

“We need to bring the rate of transmission under control where the schools operate,” she said, adding that everyone agrees on how important it is that schools can reopen safely.

Dr Van Kerkhove noted that while most children had mild or asymptomatic infections, some young children developed severe disease and others have died from severe infection.

A number of studies are currently underway with some of the preliminary results are indicating that there is some difference in the transmission rate among the younger children and teenagers. Dr Van Kerkhove noted that this means that one needs to differentiate between different age groups.