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Countries should spend on joint solutions as a COVID-19 vaccine urges WHO chief

Tedros said vaccine development is complex, risky, and expensive, and it takes different types to identify the best vaccine candidate.

The WHO on Thursday urged countries to invest billions of dollars in finding COVID-19 vaccines and treatments – compared to the huge economic cost of the coronavirus crisis.

The World Health Organization insisted that this was a smarter bet than the trillions of dollars spent on dealing with the aftermath of the global pandemic.

The head of the UN agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, advocated investment in the WHO-led ACT Accelerator program, which aims to share global research and development, manufacturing and procurement to beat COVID-1


Citing the International Monetary Fund’s predictions that the pandemic would wipe out $ 12 trillion within two years, he urged countries to spend on common solutions.

“It is the best economic incentive the world can invest in,” Tedros said at a virtual press conference.

The $ 31.3 billion in funding for the ACT Accelerator, which is needed immediately, “will cost a tiny fraction compared to the alternative where economies continue to retreat and require continued fiscal stimulus packages.”

He said risk-sharing and reward-sharing is a better choice than the option some countries have taken to support one of the dozen vaccines under development alone.

“Picking individual winners is an expensive, risky game,” he said.

“Vaccine development is long, complex, risky and expensive. The vast majority of vaccines fail early in development.”

Tedros said several vaccine candidates of different types would be needed to identify the best one.

Access to the winner

Russia declared itself the first country to approve a vaccine on Tuesday, though final-stage testing with more than 2,000 people was not due to begin until Wednesday.

Bruce Aylward, who heads the ACT accelerator, said WHO is still waiting for more details from Moscow.

“We are currently in discussion with Russia for additional information, the status of this product, the trials that have been carried out and the next steps,” he said.

According to the WHO, 168 vaccine candidates are being worked on worldwide, 28 of which have now been tested in humans.

Nine of these 28 – excluding the Russian vaccine – are included in the ACT accelerator program.

Mariangela Simao, WHO chief for drug access, said that with so many vaccine candidates, supporting just one or two is not the best option.

“We don’t know which one will be the front runner, which one will actually prove to be safe and effective,” she said.

“We encourage countries to join a global institution because you have access to more candidates and a better chance of having concrete access … to attract one of the successful candidates.”

The European Union announced earlier Thursday that it has reserved up to 400 million doses of a potential new coronavirus vaccine being developed by US giant Johnson & Johnson.

On July 31, the European Commission announced it had reserved 300 million doses of another potential vaccine being developed by the French company Sanofi.

The eye of the storm?

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 750,000 people and infected more than 20.6 million worldwide since it first emerged in China in December. This emerges from an AFP balance sheet compiled from official sources.

WHO Emergency Director Michael Ryan warned that only a small fraction of the world’s population has actually been exposed to the virus.

“This virus can burn for a long time if we let it,” he said. “The vast majority of people are still susceptible to this infection. We may be in the eye of the storm and we don’t know.”

Meanwhile, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical director for COVID-19, said there are examples from some countries suggesting that a person may have re-infected the virus, but “it is still not confirmed”.

She said experts need to look for false positive or negative cases, immune responses after infection, and sequencing.

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