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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 21 September 2020

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  • For the UN General Assembly WHO has three messages: the pandemic must motivate us to redouble our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we must prepare for the next pandemic now, and we must ensure equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

  • The overarching goal of the COVAX Facility is to ensure that all countries have access to vaccines at the same time, and that priority is given to those most at risk.

  • The COVAX Facility will help to bring the pandemic under control, save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a shared endeavour, not a contest that only the rich can win.

  • Our aim is to have 2 billion doses of vaccine available by the end of 2021.

  • So far, 3 billion US dollars has been invested in the ACT Accelerator; only a tenth of the remaining 35 billion US dollars needed for scale-up and impact.

  • 15 billion US dollars is needed immediately to maintain momentum and stay on track for our ambitious timelines. Almost half of this is for COVAX.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Today marks the 75th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the United Nations.

75 years ago, the nations of the world came together in the aftermath of the Second World War to resolve that the only alternative to the horrors of international conflict was international cooperation.

Perhaps no crisis since the Second World War has demonstrated more clearly why we need the UN than the COVID-19 pandemic.

We can only confront this common threat with a common approach.

WHO is proud to be part of the UN family.

As the nations of the world meet virtually for the UN General Assembly this week, WHO has three key messages:

First, the pandemic must motivate us to redouble our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, not become an excuse for missing them.

Second, we must prepare for the next pandemic now.

And third, we must move heaven and earth to ensure equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

We continue to call on all countries to use every tool at their disposal to suppress transmission and save lives, until and after we have a vaccine.

From the beginning of this crisis, WHO has championed and supported the global effort to develop a vaccine.

We have developed target product profiles, criteria for the prioritization of vaccines and a core vaccine trial protocol.

We have engaged with vaccine developers and academics to standardize lab assays, animal models, and other normative methodologies.

We are also helping to match manufacturers with trial sites.

In April, WHO, the European Commission and many partners established the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, to speed up the development and manufacturing of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics – and to ensure fair and equitable access for all countries.

Together with Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, CEPI, we also established the COVAX Facility, which will give participating countries access to the world’s largest and most diverse portfolio of vaccine candidates.

The overarching goal of the COVAX Facility is to ensure that all countries have access to vaccines at the same time, and that priority is given to those most at risk, including health workers, older people and others at the highest risk.

We have no guarantee that any single vaccine now in development will work.

The more candidates we test, the higher the chance we will have a safe and efficacious vaccine.

Almost 200 vaccines for COVID-19 are currently in clinical and pre-clinical testing. The history of vaccine development tells us that some will fail, and some will succeed.

The COVAX Facility enables governments to spread the risk of vaccine development and ensure their populations can have early access to effective vaccines.

Even more importantly, the COVAX Facility is the mechanism that will enable a globally-coordinated rollout for the greatest possible impact.

The COVAX Facility will help to bring the pandemic under control, save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a collaboration, not a contest.

This is not charity, it’s in every country’s best interest. We sink or we swim together.

The fastest route to ending the pandemic and accelerating the global economic recovery is to ensure some people are vaccinated in all countries, not all people in some countries.

Recent opinion polls show the overwhelming majority of people support equitable access to vaccines.

Our aim is to have 2 billion doses of vaccine available by the end of 2021.

We’re encouraged to see a large number of countries signing up to the COVAX Facility.

But we face some daunting challenges.

For the ACT Accelerator to work as planned, it must be funded. So far, 3 billion US dollars has been invested.

This has resulted in a very successful start-up phase, but it is only a tenth of the remaining 35 billion dollars needed for scale-up and impact.

15 billion dollars is needed immediately to maintain momentum and stay on track for our ambitious timelines.

Our challenge now is to take the tremendous promise of the ACT Accelerator and COVAX to scale.

We are at a critical point and we need a significant increase in countries’ political and financial commitment.

This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

Our estimates suggest that once an effective vaccine has been distributed, and international travel and trade is fully restored, the economic gains will far outweigh the 38 billion dollar investment required for the ACT Accelerator.

It’s now my great pleasure to welcome my friend Dr Seth Berkley, the Chief Executive Officer of Gavi.

Seth, you have the floor.