FIFA Will Help WHO Campaign For Fair Access to Vaccines
The WHO and FIFA have been working together to address the pandemic.

The 2020 FIFA Club World Cup, which kicks off in Qatar on Thursday, will also launch a major COVID-19 media campaign focusing on fair global access to vaccines as well as preventive measures such as mask-wearing – thanks to a new partnership between the World Health Organization and football’s global body, FIFA, which was announced on Monday.

“Football is calling on the international community to act together to ensure that a level playing field exists in relation to access to vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests all over the globe,” said FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, at a media briefing from the WHO’s Geneva headquarters, announcing the initiative.

Meanwhile Dr Tedros’s special advisor, Dr Bruce Aylward, confirmed that COVAX, the WHO co-sponsored vaccine facility, had sent letters to all 190 member countries yesterday notifying them of the “indicative allocations” of vaccines that they could expect. COVAX aims to distribute at least 2.3 million vaccines this year to countries around the world – but critics have said this falls far short of the needs in low- and middle-income countries that cannot compete with rich countries in the purchase and distribution of often pricey COVID-19 vaccines.

At the World Cup club event, television and in-stadium announcements by star footballers, will promote COVAX and other projects of the WHO co-sponsored ACT Accelerator initiative, which aims to get equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments the world over. The public service announcements will also urge people to wear masks, practice physical distancing and hand hygiene.

Joining Monday’s WHO briefing, legendary footballer Michael Owen said he was delighted that FIFA has returned to competitive football and could use the Club World Cup “to remind a global TV audience of the importance of adhering to vital public health measures.”

“Over and above that, it is important that Dr Tedros and Gianni remind the powers-that-be that there needs to be equity and fairness in access to vaccines. This has been a global pandemic and we need global to get access to vaccination,” said Owen. 

Fairness is the Foundation of Football – It Must Be The Same For Health

“Fairness is the foundation of football and all other sports, and this also must be the same when it comes to health,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the briefing.  

“The rules of the COVID-19 challenge are simple: all people at risk from the coronavirus in all countries must have equitable access to life-saving vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. In just nine months, the world has established these three powerful lines of defense against COVID-19. But our goal now is to ensure equitable access and continued refinement of these tools,” Dr Tedros said. 

Infantino added that the World Cup, planned for 21 November 2022, is planned as an in-person event  “and we will have full stadiums, we must have this pandemic defeated by then.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the WHO press briefing on Monday.

WHO’s Technical Lead on COVID-19, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who described herself as “the least sporty person” on the WHO team, thanked FIFA: “One of the things we’re learning is the importance of good role models. It’s very, very hard to keep up all of the hand hygiene and the mask-wearing. But if we have sports players and leaders all over the world to show us that it’s cool to do, it helps, and we can use all the help we can get.”

COVAX Has Sent Vaccine ‘Indicative Allocation’ Letters to Member Countries 

COVAX, the best known arm of the Act Accelerator, aims to distribute over 2.3 million vaccines in 2021. But it and other arms of the ACT-Accelerator initiative remain about US$26 billion short of funds, officials say.

However, with sufficient vaccine commitments under its belt for now, COVAX, co-sponsored by Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and UNICEF, aims to start distributing vaccines within the next few weeks – beginning with a 40 million-dose supply procured at-cost from Pfizer, as well as doses of a more affordable and temperature stable vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and being manufactured by India’s Serum Institute. WHO has already approved the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, and it is in the final stages of reviewing AstraZeneca’s product – which has already been approved by regulatory authorities in the United Kingdom, the EU, India and elsewhere. 

Aylward confirmed that the global vaccine access platform, COVAX, had sent letters to all 190 member countries yesterday notifying them of the “indicative allocations” of vaccines that they could expect. He said that these allocations would be published on the COVAX Supply Forecast in the next few days. 

DG Tedros has said that the Organization wants to get initial vaccine doses to every country in the world – for administration to health workers and others most at risk – within the first 120 days of this year – e.g. end of April.  

WHO’s Mariângela Simão, Assistant Director-General for Drug Access, added that factors influencing the actual timing of the allocations included whether vaccines had been approved for emergency use and “the actual projection of how many doses will be available in February and March from the manufacturers because there have been some glitches in the manufacturing of the different vaccines and there may be less volume to be located.”

AstraZeneca has experienced significant manufacturing problems, which has particularly slowed its supply of vaccines to Europe, much to the fury of the European Union. 

WHO Launches Health Information Systems Scorecard 

In another development, WHO also launched a global scorecard today, a technical package of essential interventions, recommended actions, tools and resources to support countries in addressing challenges and meeting health information system needs. 

The initiative is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies. 

“Strengthening health information systems is an important part of WHO’s work for detecting and responding rapidly to alerts and outbreaks, as well as many other health threats,” said Dr Tedros.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO.

“Today, WHO launched the score global report on health data systems on capacity, which provides a snapshot of the state of health information systems around the world. This is the first report of its kind, covering 163 country health information systems and about 87% of the world’s population,” he added.

According to the scorecard, 4 in 10 deaths globally remain unregistered, which Dr Tedros said highlights the “urgent need for investments to strengthen health information systems in all countries to support the COVID-19 response and recovery and progress towards universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Image Credits: WHO/C.Black, WHO.

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