WHO Challenges Pfizer and Moderna to Openly Share Their Know-How to Accelerate COVID Vaccine Production 
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

In his most explicit appeal to date, WHO’s Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called upon the global leaders in COVID mRNA vaccine manufacturing – Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna to “share their know-how” in vaccine manufacturing with more manufacturers, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. 

The WHO DG also called upon countries that are beginning to issue COVID passports for travel, to recognize any WHO-approved vaccine – a thinly veiled jab at the brand new European Union COVID digital pass, which has been widely criticized for only recognizing vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency – and not WHO-approved vaccines produced in India, China, or Korea.   

“New manufacturing hubs – including for mRNA vaccines – are being developed,” said the WHO Director General, in a clear reference to a recently-announced WHO mRNA manufacturing hub initiative, to be anchored in South Africa.  “but this could be accelerated by companies openly sharing technology and know-how.   

“In particular, I urge those companies – BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna – to share their know how so that we can speed up the development of new production.

“The sooner we start building more vaccine hubs and upping global vaccine capacity, the sooner we can diminish deadly surges,” he said, saying that the world is in a “very dangerous period of this pandemic” – and “no country is out of the woods yet.”   

Dangerous Delta Variant Continuing to Evolve 

His appeal came as the Delta variant continues to spread across the globe, detected in at least 98 countries so far, according to WHO. 

Africa, which had escaped more easily from previous pandemic waves is now facing a  sharp increase in new cases, with infection rates climbing faster than previous waves, and “new, and and faster spreading variants fuelling the continents surging third wave,” in the words of a WHO African region briefing on Thursday.  For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, infection rates in African countries are well outpacing those of India, Latin America or higher income Americas or Europe – where the virus had rampaged last year. 

“In those countries with low vaccination coverage, terrible scenes of hospitals overflowing are again becoming the norm,” said Tedros at Friday’s global update.  “But no country is out of the woods yet. 

“The Delta variant is dangerous and is continuing to evolve and mutate, which requires constant evaluation and careful adjustment of the public health response.”

The WHO also called out rich countries for failing to share enough vaccines – saying that sharing so far has been  “still only a trickle, which is being outpaced by variants. 

And he urged global leaders to ensure that at least 10% of people in every country are vaccinated by the end of September – building up to 70% of the world’s population by the same time next year. 

“By the end of this September, we’re calling on leaders to vaccinate at least 10% of people in all countries,” he said. “This would protect health workers and those at most risk, effectively ending the acute stage of the pandemic and saving a lot of lives.

“It is within the collective power of a few countries to step up and ensure that vaccines are shared, manufacturing is increased and that the funds are in place to purchase the tools needed.”

Calls on Countries to Accept All WHO Approved Vaccines for Travel Certificates 

In a thinly-veiled reference to the new European Union COVID digital pass, the Director General also called upon all countries to recognize all vaccines that have been approved by WHO for their digital certificate programmes. 

The EU pass has been widely criticized in Africa and other developing regions for failing to recognize AstraZeneca vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India as part of its digital pass programme. 

“Some countries, regions, have launched so called vaccine certificates and I want to make it very clear that it is important that these do not lead to discrimination against those people and countries that have either a lack of vaccines or certain type of vaccine,” Tedros said. .

“As you know WHO issues Emergency Use Listings for vaccines based on a stringent assessment of safety and efficacy and we expect all countries to recognise and accept those vaccines that WHO has approved.”

The EU COVID pass automatically recognizes EMA approved vaccines, which include those by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson&Johnson, and the European-manufactured version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, known as  Vaxzevria.  But the COVID pass programme excludes two other WHO-approved versions of the same AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in Korea and India, which has been the main vaccine distributed by the WHO Co-sponsored global COVAX facility, along with the WHO approved Chinese vaccines produced by Sinopharm and Sinovac. Altogether, those vaccines constitute the main options available in developing countries today. 

Travelers “Not a Priority” for COVID Testing. 

Joachim Hombach, Head of the WHO SAGE Secretariat, which provides expert advise on vaccines and realted policies at Friday’s briefing.

In new guidance on COVID-related travel policies, also issued Friday, WHO, however, maintained its previous staunch overall opposition to requiring proof of vaccination at all as a condition for international travel.

“WHO recommends that Member States: not require proof of COVD-19 vaccination as a mandatory condition for entry to or exit from a country,” said the policy brief.

The WHO brief also stated that international travelers should not be treated  “as a priority group for SARS-CoV-2 testing, as they are not suspected COVID-19 cases by default.” 

Even so, the brief recommended that countries consider lifting their testing and quarantine requirements for international travelers who are fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine or have recovered from COVID-19 within the previous six months, and are no longer infectious.  

And for people that have been vaccinated, countries should “consider recording proof of COVID-19 vaccination in the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP),” which is recognized globally under International Health Regulations. 

WHO’s Longtime Opposition to Travel Restrictions

Despite the almost universal implementation of COVID related-travel restrictions since the pandemic’s early days of the pandemic, as a means of controlling infection spread, and more recently the spread of variants, WHO has maintained a highly negative stance against any travel limits at all. 

An earlier, December 2020, WHO recommendation advised countries that wish to create travel restrictions, to consider limiting the entry of travelers only in cases where infection rates in the originating countries were significantly higher than at the country of arrival. 

And even that measure might not be necessary if travel volumes are not very high, the brief stated.  

“In most countries, arriving travellers represent a small proportion of the population at any given time,” the brief stated. “Consequently, even if travellers from some countries present a significantly higher infection risk than the domestic population, the overall level of transmission will be elevated only slightly if high incidence is already present in the arrival country.” 

The advice has contrasted sharply with infection models that reflect how international air travel became a key vector for the spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus, from the early days of its emergence.  

Asked by Health Policy Watch what is the logic of discouraging travel-related COVID testing, particularly in low-resourced settings that have widely adopted the procedure, specifically to control the dangerous importation of cases or variants, WHO did not respond. 



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