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High-income countries' vaccine deals undermine COVAX: WHO chief

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, and Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus left on the screen, brief the media on a virtual joint news conference at Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

World Health Organization (WHO) chief said on Monday (Feb. 22) that deals between some high-income countries and manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines are undermining the WHO-led COVAX initiative by reducing the number of doses it can purchase.

"It's important to note, however, that money is not the only challenge we face. If there are no vaccines to buy, money is irrelevant," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a WHO press briefing on Monday.

Currently, some high-income countries are entering contracts with vaccine manufacturers that undermine the deals that COVAX has in place, and reduce the number of doses COVAX can buy, Tedros said.

"Even if we have the funds, we can only deliver vaccines to poorer countries if high-income countries cooperate in respecting the deals COVAX has done, and the new deals it is doing," he said.

"This is not a matter of charity. It's a matter of epidemiology. Unless we end the pandemic everywhere, we will not end it anywhere," he added.

Tedros called on all countries, including high-income countries, to share vaccine doses immediately, and urged manufacturers to prioritize contracts with COVAX and significantly increase the production of vaccines.

According to WHO's statistics, the COVID-19 pandemic has infected more than 110 million people and claimed nearly 2.5 million lives so far, while also resulting in millions of livelihoods being lost, schools closed, and the global economy was thrown into turmoil.

"It has exposed and exploited the fault lines, inequalities, injustices, and contradictions of our world, within and between countries," Tedros said at another meeting on Monday.

The good news is that the number of weekly reported cases has declined for six consecutive weeks, and the number of deaths has also fallen for three straight weeks. Meanwhile, the development and approval of safe and effective vaccines are giving all hope that this pandemic can be brought under control.

As around 200 million doses of vaccine have been administered so far, of which most in the world's richest countries, the WHO chief has been reiterating that vaccine equity is "our highest priority, and we will not stop until we get it."

Seen as the most powerful weapon against the pandemic, vaccination campaigns with authorized COVID-19 vaccines are ongoing in some countries around the world.

Further 251 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 70 of them in clinical trials -- including in Germany, Italy, China, Russia, Britain, and the United States, according to data released by the World Health Organization on Feb. 19.

(Source: Xinhua News Agency)

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