WHO calls for urgent response to production failures for COVID-19 vaccines

February 1, 2021: World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a briefing on January 29, “If we hoard vaccines and we are not sharing, there will be three major problems. One, I have said it, it will be a catastrophic moral failure and two it keeps the pandemic burning and three very slow global economy recovery”.

A new call for a “People’s Vaccine” has been launched by Oxfam and other organisations to support the WHO effort at a fair, effective global vaccination program. And the South Africa – India call for a waiver of some WTO patent rules during the pandemic continues to be argued against rich country resistance.

Both Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca have reported delays in production of vaccines, failing to deliver contracted supplies to the European Union. The UK, USA, and Israel appear to have grabbed the bulk of available supplies, mainly by paying top prices to the pharmaceutical companies.

Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, decried countries “fighting over the cake” when frontline health workers in poor countries “don’t even have access to the crumbs”.

Younger, healthier adults in rich countries are being vaccinated before healthcare workers and more at-risk people and communities in poorer countries.

The WHO also said the world needed to diversify the supply chain for making COVID-19 vaccines and that it was looking at other suppliers. The WHO promised to begin distribution the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine to poor and middle-income countries through its COVAX Facility in February 2021.

The temporary waiver of WTO patent rules would facilitate a new approach to manufacturing vaccines, called “distributed manufacturing” which would bring production facilities much closer to the populations requiring vaccination. This contrasts with the current model of centralised production at a few points, with vaccines then transported around the world with the associated risks of failed temperature control and diversion.