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WHO Chief Ghebreyesus said world has reached situation of 'vaccine apartheid'

US President Biden said that the US will share 80 million vaccine doses globally

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Monday said the world has reached a situation of "vaccine apartheid."

He also said the Serum Institute of India will need to "get back on track and catch up" on its delivery commitments to COVAX, the global initiative to supply coronavirus vaccines to nations around the world. 

Ghebreyesus, emphasising the urgency of the situation said that the world was no longer only at the risk of reaching 'vaccine apartheid' and called on vaccine manufacturers to make shots available to the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility sooner than planned as the supply has fallen short due to a rapid surge in cases in India. India had been one of the major vaccine exporters. 

By the time G7 leaders gather in the UK next month, and as a deadly second wave of COVID-19 will likely continue to sweep across India and many of its South Asian neighbours, the shortfall will be near 190 million doses.

"As you know, high-income countries account for 15 per cent of the world's population but have 45 per cent of the world's vaccines. Low- and lower-middle countries account for almost half of the world's population but have received just 17 per cent of the world's vaccines. So the gap is really huge," Ghebreyesus told Reuters. 

He also pointed that low-income countries aren't getting as many doses of the vaccine due to lack of sharing. 

US President Joe Biden on Monday said that the US will share 80 million vaccine doses globally over the next six weeks. 

"Even now, some high-income countries are moving to vaccinate children and adolescents, while health workers, older people and other at-risk groups around the world remain unvaccinated," he added.

China, which is actively pursuing vaccine diplomacy, said on Monday that it is "supportive" of India and South Africa's proposal for a temporary waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights for coronavirus vaccines, asserting that Beijing will back all actions that are conducive to the developing countries' fight against the pandemic.

India and South Africa called for TRIPS waiver of certain intellectual property provisions of COVID-19 vaccines in a communication to the World Trade Organization in October last year so that people in developing countries get access to life-saving vaccines and therapeutics as soon as possible.

Since then, the proposal started gathering support even in the US and the European Union.

Early this month, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala appealed to the member countries to quickly present and negotiate a text that could temporarily ease trade rules that protect COVID-19 vaccine technology, considering the urgency.

"China fully understands and is supportive of the developing world's demand for an IPR waiver for COVID-19 vaccines", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing, without directly referring to India and South Africa's proposal.

Currently, South Africa, Malawi and other African nations like Zimbabwe are in dire need of COVID-19 vaccines.

Ghana, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo; Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka too are looking to other nations for vaccine supply. 

Jake Becraft CEO of Strand Therapeutics, a US-based biopharmaceutical company told CNBC that the vaccines need to be made in very controlled, high-tech facilities and that the required technology does not exist across the globe. The push for patent waivers is “political theatre,” Becraft said.

"If we want vaccines that are safe and effective, we need to incentivize these companies to actually build out manufacturing capacity globally," he added.

He also said that even with a patent waiver, accessing raw materials, technology and production capacity could take months, if not years. 

-- With PTI inputs

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