This call to action is at the heart of WHO's campaign for #VaccinEquity. Distributing COVID-19 vaccines quickly and equitably is essential to end this pandemic and restart our economies. To restore lives and livelihoods.
Answering this call, however, requires that countries work together – which is also in their best interests. This is only possible, however, if leaders, manufacturers and regulatory authorities make it a priority. That means contributing to global procurement through COVAX, scaling up manufacturing and accelerating regulatory processes. This requires putting health above profits and rejecting vaccine nationalism.
Since the start of the pandemic, WHO and the European Commission have worked closely on supporting people in Europe – and beyond. This is a matter of epidemiology, not charity. And it is our collective responsibility that the terms solidarity and equity don’t become mere rhetoric.
In April 2020, WHO, the European Commission and France, launched COVAX, bringing together governments, global health organizations, manufacturers, scientists, the private sector, civil society and philanthropic entities, in the name of innovative, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX is the only truly global vaccine solution to this pandemic. It is the only effort to ensure that people in all corners of the world get access to vaccines regardless of their wealth or origin.
The first shipment of vaccines through the COVAX Facility arrived in Ghana in late March 2021, marking the start of a global roll-out aimed at bringing 2 billion doses to those in need wherever they are, in 2021.
But long before the first vaccines reach a country, we work with health authorities to ensure health systems, regulatory authorities and legal frameworks are ready, in line with the European Programme of Work 'United Action for Better Health in Europe’.
Deployment plans must be comprehensive; from customs procedures on arrival – to personal protective equipment for vaccinators. Listening and communicating to the public so they are informed and engaged is also critical. Recognizing that successful roll-out depends on strong planning and implementation, and that the pandemic cannot be defeated one country at a time, the EU has established several initiatives to support rollout in EU neighbouring countries.
The collective efforts don’t stop here. Monitoring is also pivotal: of roll-out progress, uptake, vaccine effectiveness and safety. At each step, we will need to analyze, reassess, correct our course and progress more efficiently.
Patience is key, and we must all wait our turn. Equity, fairness and efficiency in reducing severe disease and deaths all tell us that health workers and our older family, friends, colleagues, must come first.
This is no small feat; this is the first global vaccine roll-out of its kind in history. Yes, there will be hurdles, delays and new variants of concern, but these are hurdles that we can surmount – by working together.
Author: Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe