Mayors Appeal for Equitable Access to Vaccines – Independent Panel calls for contributions ahead of WHO submission
Vaccination rollout in Accra, Ghana

Mayors from three capital cities in the global south have appealed for speedy “technology transfer” to enable them to produce their own COVID-19 vaccines at Friday’s World Health Organization (WHO) bi-weekly COVID-19 media briefing.

The mayors’ appeal comes on the eve of a meeting next week between WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to discuss “how to overcome the barriers to boost production vaccine equity”, said Tedros.

Adjei Sowah, mayor of Accra in Ghana, said that his city had almost used up all 300,000 vaccine doses it had received recently via COVAX – yet it has a population of five million including a two-million strong transient population which could be spreading the virus to rural areas.

To achieve vaccine equity, Sowah proposed that rich countries “share their surplus doses” and the “acceleration of technology transfer” to enable manufacturing in Ghana and other countries in order to “reach herd immunity as quickly as possible”. 

‘Finish and Fit’ Possible in Bogota

Mayor Claudia Lopez from Bogota in Colombia, with a population of 11 million, said that her city would need to vaccinate six million people to achieve herd immunity – but it lacked the doses to do so.

Bogota had been able to produce vaccines until 2001 but “because we did not have the sufficient investment in research and biotechnology, we lost that capacity”, said Lopez.

She appealed to the WHO to assist her city to get investment to enable vaccine production – starting with “finish and fit”, the assembly of vaccine products once the biological component had been made elsewhere.

“We do face the real risk of a third wave and it is vital that, before May we have vaccinated, everybody over the age of 60 and all healthcare professionals. So that means that we need 2.6 million doses in the next couple of months,” said Lopez.

Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown Sierra Leone

Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, representing Freetown in Sierra Leone and one of the poorest countries in the world, said her city’s vaccine rollout had started with week with 296,000 doses of AstraZeneca (two doses needed per person).

At a meeting over the past week with mayors from the C40, a network of 97 of the world’s biggest capital cities’, Aki-Sawyerr said it was “really fascinating” to hear from cities such as Los Angeles “who are able to talk about a mass vaccination rollout, in contrast to some of us”.

While Freetown had only recorded 2,222 COVID-19 cases and 80 deaths ”you’d almost think that COVID had passed us by, but it hasn’t because the economic impact has been significant”, said Aki-Sawyerr of her city of slightly over a million people.

“What we face, and what other countries and cities in emerging economies that don’t have the access to the vaccine in the same way as countries who are ordering five times what they require and holding on to these, is economic exclusion and greater inequality,” said Aki-Sawyerr.

“We face a risk of being in a situation where vaccine passes are needed for travel, and that could certainly have an impact on tourism,” she said. “We are very concerned about how this will move from a disparity in a vaccine rollout to reinforcing inequalities, reinforcing economic exclusion and thereby putting everyone at risk.”


Independent Panel Still Seeking Views Ahead of Submission Date


If the world’s pandemic preparedness, alert and response system had been working properly, the COVID-19 pandemic would not have had such “catastrophic consequences”, according to Helen Clark, co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

So far,  the pandemic has cost 2.6 million lives, had a substantial impact on the education of  millions of children and is projected to have cost economies $22 trillion by 2025, according to a media release from the panel on Friday following a two-day meeting.

“If the existing system, from the global to the national levels was good enough, the worst would not have happened,” said Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, co-chair of the panel, at the opening of the meeting. “The status quo isn’t just not good enough; it has actually had catastrophic consequences,” she said. 

The panel is considering a range of recommendations aimed at “resetting the international pandemic preparedness and alert system” as it prepares its final report to be presented to the World Health Organization (WHO) in May.

These include solving the problems of speed and transparency in alert and response; country preparedness; the authority of and support for the WHO and equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. It is also still taking submissions to its website.

Eleven Million Girls Have Dropped Out of School

The 13-person panel reflected on the International Monetary Fund’s projection that COVID-19 will cost $22 trillion in projected cumulative output loss over 2020-2025 relative to pre-pandemic projections.  

It also noted the World Bank report that, as a result of the pandemic and school closures, 72 million more primary school-aged children may not be able to read or understand a simple text by the age of 10. Some 11 million girls are estimated to have dropped out of school.

Co-Chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia, stressed that behind those enormous numbers are millions of people who have suffered incalculable setbacks, from which recovery will be difficult.  

“People who are poor, people who are marginalized, and those who have faced structural injustices have been at a great disadvantage during the pandemic. This must not continue through the recovery. We must keep their lives and their voices at the heart of our conclusions and recommendations.” 

The Independent Panel was established by the WHO’s Director-General to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international response to COVID-19.    



Image Credits: Gavi/2021/Jeffrey Atsuson.

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