Western Countries Sit on Massive COVID-19 Vaccine Stockpiles While COVAX is Short of 500m Doses
Gordon Brown, WHO Ambassador for Global Health Financing,

Western stockpiles of surplus COVID-19 vaccines are predicted to reach 600 million doses by the end of the year and millions might expire – yet the global vaccine facility COVAX is still short of 500 million doses to vaccinate 40% of the population by December.

This is according to former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, recently appointed as the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Ambassador for Global Health Financing, who addressed the WHO’s media briefing on Thursday.

He described the next 10 days leading up to the G20 meeting in Italy at month-end as “decisive”.

“If at the G20 summit in Italy, the world’s richest countries cannot mobilise an extraordinary, expedited airlift of doses to the unvaccinated and unprotected of the world, and do so starting immediately, an epidemiological economic and ethical dereliction of duty will shame us all,” said Brown.

He called for a “globally coordinated, month by month operational plan and timetable” to transfer unused vaccines being held by the richest countries of the world to the world’s poorest countries.

Medecins san Frontiers (MSF) has estimated the figure of Western surplus doses for the 10 richest countries to be in the region of 870-million doses by year-end, while Brown said that this figure could balloon to one billion by February.

COVID kills thousands of health workers

At least 115,000 health workers have died of COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021 yet millions are still unvaccinated, according to WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“In Africa, less than one in 10 health workers have been fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, in most high-income countries, more than 80% of health workers are fully vaccinated,” Tedros told the briefing.

This is not a vaccine manufacturing problem, he added, but “an indictment on the countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines”. 

“High and upper-middle-income countries have now administered almost half as many booster shots as the total number of vaccines administered in low-income countries,” said Tedros – but COVAX was in the dark about how many doses it would be getting and when.

It needed 500 million vaccine doses to vaccinate 40% of the world’s population by the end of the year, but 82 countries were in danger of missing this target, mostly because of a lack of supply.

“The G20 countries have pledged to donate more than $1.2 million to COVAX. So far only 150 million doses have been delivered,” said Tedros.

“For most donations, we have no timeline. We don’t know what’s coming and when manufacturers have not told us how much COVAX will receive, or when we receive it. We cannot have equity, without transparency.”

Tedros also called on wealthy countries and vaccine manufacturers to “share know-how, technology, licences and waive intellectual property rights”, adding  “we’re not asking for charity; we’re calling for a common-sense investment in the global recovery”.

Ahead of next week’s G20 summit next week, the ACT Accelerator is going to release a new 12-month strategic plan and budget to set out the actions and resources needed to achieve the WHO’s global vaccination targets. 

“It’s clear what needs to happen. The countries that have already reached the 40% target, which includes all the G20 countries, must give their spot in the vaccine delivery queue to COVAX and AVAT [the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust],” said Tedros.

Huge nurses’ shortage looms

Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses

The WHO and partners have called on all countries to improve monitoring and reporting of infections and deaths among health and care workers, ensure they are prioritised for COVID-19 vaccines and enjoy “safe and healthy working conditions” including regular salaries, pay equity, appropriate education, career opportunities, and social protection. 

Describing the deaths as an underestimate, Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), said that deceased nurses’ families did not get compensation because COVID-19 was not recognised as an occupational health injury.

Lamenting the deaths, Kennedy asked: “Is it that health care workers lives mean so little? Is that governments do not realise that they have a duty of care to their health workers, the most valuable resource?” 

She added that nurses were “burnt out, devastated and physically and mentally exhausted” from working long hours in dangerous conditions, often without personal protective equipment (PPE), during the pandemic.

She also predicted a dire shortage of nurses in the next decade, with as many as 13 million – half the global workforce – could leave the profession in the next decade, mostly retiring or looking for better working conditions.

Image Credits: Adnan Abidi/Flickr.

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