By Aditi Khanna
London, Sep 27 (PTI) British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a special reference to India's role in the manufacture and access to one of the most promising coronavirus vaccine candidates currently undergoing trials during his address to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.
In reference to the vaccine being worked on by the University of Oxford, Johnson stressed the importance of equitable access of any successful vaccine because the health of every country depends on the whole world having access to a safe and effective vaccine, wherever a breakthrough might occur.
"As I speak there are 100 potential vaccines that are trying to clear the hurdles of safety and efficacy, as if in a giant global steeplechase,” Johnson said in a prerecorded speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday.
"The Oxford vaccine is now in Stage 3 of clinical trials, and in case of success AstraZeneca has already begun to manufacture millions of doses, in readiness for rapid distribution, and they have reached agreement with the Serum Institute of India to supply 1 billion doses to low and middle-income countries," he said.
Declaring that "humanity was caught napping" as the pandemic struck and has been "scrabbling to catch up" ever since, Johnson issued a spirited defence of the World Health Organisation as the one body that marshals humanity against the legions of disease and confirmed increased investment that would make the UK the largest state donor to the UN health agency if US President Donald Trump’s exit from the multilateral body goes through next year.
He pushed for greater international collaboration to fight a common enemy such as the virus and urged countries to reach across borders and repair "ugly rifts" and "heal the world".
"And after nine months of fighting COVID-19, the very notion of the international community looks, frankly, pretty tattered. And we know that we simply can't continue in this way. Unless we get our act together," he said.
"That is why we in the UK – global Britain – are one of the biggest global funders of that organisation, contributing 340 million pounds over the next four years, that’s an increase of 30 per cent," Johnson said.
The biggest single donor to the efforts of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness to find a vaccine and contribution of up to 571 million pounds to COVAX, a new initiative designed to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine across the world, were among some of the other UK initiatives Johnson sought to highlight in his address.
He also called for honesty to reach a joint understanding of how the pandemic began and how it was able to spread as a "moral imperative", indicating that he had no intention of finger-pointing at China.
"Not because I want to blame any country or government, or to score points. I simply believe – as a former COVID patient – that we all have a right to know, so that we can collectively do our best to prevent a recurrence," he said.
"And as we now send our medical detectives to interview the witnesses and the suspects – bats, the pangolins, whoever – we should have enough humility to acknowledge that alarm bells were ringing before this calamity struck," he said.
Describing the pandemic as an "immense psychic shock" to the human race, he declared it outrageous that such a "microscopic enemy" should have routed the unity of the human race as he condemned the perverse ranking of death tolls across different regions of the world.
"COVID-19 has caused us to cease other vital work, and I’m afraid it made individual nations seem selfish and divided from each other. Every day people were openly encouraged to study a grisly reverse Olympic league table, and to take morbid and totally mistaken comfort in the greater sufferings of others,” he said.
"We cannot go on like that, we cannot make these mistakes again,” he concluded. PTI AK ZH