'Recent progress in Covid vaccines offer ray of hope'

Recent breakthroughs on Covid-19 vaccines offer ray of hope, says UN chief Guterres

This week, global drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech said their Covid-19 vaccine candidates were 95% effective, including in adults over 65 years of age

Antonio Guterres. Credit: Reuters Photo

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the recent breakthroughs towards development of Covid-19 vaccines as a "ray of hope” that needs to reach everyone and called on the G-20 nations to support the global collaboration to accelerate development of coronavirus treatments and drugs.

This week, global drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech said their Covid-19 vaccine candidate is 95 per cent effective, including in adults over 65 years of age.

“The recent breakthroughs on Covid-19 vaccines offer a ray of hope. But that ray of hope needs to reach everyone,” Guterres said at a news conference on Friday.

“That means ensuring that vaccines are treated as a global public good — accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere. A people's vaccine. This is not a ‘do-good' exercise. It is the only way to stop the pandemic dead in its tracks,” he said.

Asserting that "solidarity is indeed survival”, Guterres said that the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX Facility are the vehicles to get nations there.

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Based on current projections, the companies expect to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021. The major announcement came just days after Moderna said its virus vaccine has an efficacy rate of 94.5 per cent.

The announcements about the vaccines and their potential availability for use among the general population in the coming weeks and months has offered hope to millions around the world in a year that has seen the Covid-19 pandemic devastate lives and economies with no signs of abating.

So far, the coronavirus has infected more than 55 million people around the world and killed over 1.3 million people even as governments implemented strict lockdowns and restrictions to slow the spread of the virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

A second wave of infections is threatening to derail economies and impact lives again as countries had gradually begun to ease restrictions and open up.

Guterres said that over the past seven months, countries have invested USD 10 billion in the effort to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics but that USD 28 billion more are needed — including USD 4.2 billion before the end of the year.

“This funding is critical for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of new Covid-19 vaccines and tools around the world. G20 countries have the resources. I am urging all of them to fully support the ACT-Accelerator,” he said, referring to the global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

Launched at the end of April 2020, the ACT- Accelerator brings together governments, scientists, businesses, civil society, and philanthropists and global health organisations (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CEPI, FIND, Gavi, The Global Fund, Unitaid, Wellcome, the WHO, and the World Bank).

Guterres, however, voiced concern that vaccine myths and wild conspiracies continue to spread on social media, saying it is unfortunate that there is no vaccine for misinformation.

“Our UN communications networks are working to build vaccine confidence with factual, reliable and persuasive content — and reaching out to social media platforms to strengthen public trust. All of these efforts are vital to save lives and provide an exit strategy out of this global economic and human crisis,” he said.

Responding to a question on whether common policies have been agreed or will be discussed for the distribution of the vaccine during the G20 summit, he said there are now more than 160 countries that have committed to the COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

“The COVAX will be a system of coordination of the investments needed, both for the development, the production, and the distribution of the vaccines,” he said, adding that beyond the COVAX, there are other initiatives of different countries that are intending to buy vaccines for their own people. “And of course, I don't blame a government that decides to protect its own people, but this needs to be done combined with their commitment to COVAX.”

Guterres said several developed countries that have their own programmes already have joined the COVAX and already have invested in the COVAX to obtain vaccines also from the COVAX.

“So, I'm hoping that the COVAX will be the main instrument to guarantee that, indeed, vaccines will become a global public good available and affordable for all. And the G20 has a very important role, and I appeal to all G20 members to become members of the COVAX.”

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