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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 9 April 2021

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  • Out of 220 countries and economies, 194 have now started vaccination, and 26 have not. Of those, 7 have received vaccines and could start, and a further 5 countries should receive their vaccines in the coming days.

  • More than 700 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 87% have gone to high income or upper middle-income countries, while low income countries have received just 0.2%.

  • WHO, Gavi, CEPI and our other COVAX partners are working on several options for accelerating production and supply.

  • WHO GACVS has said that a causal relationship between the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and the occurrence of blood clots with low platelets is plausible, but more investigation is required. WHO, EMA and MHRA continue to recommend that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk of these very rare side effects.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

As you know, at the beginning of the year we issued a call for vaccination to begin in all countries within the first 100 days of the year.

Tomorrow is day 100.

Out of 220 countries and economies, 194 have now started vaccination, and 26 have not. Of those, 7 have received vaccines and could start, and a further 5 countries should receive their vaccines in the coming days.

That leaves 14 countries who have not yet begun vaccination, for a range of reasons. Some have not requested vaccines through COVAX, some are not yet ready, and some plan to start in the coming weeks and months.

COVAX has now delivered more than 38 million doses of vaccine to more than 100 countries and economies in the past six weeks.

We’re encouraged that almost all countries who want to start have now started.

However, I emphasize the word start. Most countries do not have anywhere near enough vaccines to cover all health workers, or all at-risk groups, never mind the rest of their populations.

There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines.

More than 700 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 87% have gone to high income or upper middle-income countries, while low income countries have received just 0.2%.

On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500. Let me repeat that: one in four versus one in 500.

COVAX had been expecting to distribute almost 100 million doses by the end of March, but due to a marked reduction in supply, we have only been able to distribute 38 million doses.

We hope to be able to catch up during April and May.

COVAX works. It’s a strong mechanism that can distribute vaccines faster and more efficiently than any other mechanism. The problem is not getting vaccines out of COVAX; the problem is getting them in.

We understand that some countries and companies plan to do their own bilateral vaccine donations, bypassing COVAX for their own political or commercial reasons.

These bilateral arrangements run the risk of fanning the flames of vaccine inequity.

This is a time for partnership, not patronage.

Scarcity of supply is driving vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy.

So Gavi, WHO, CEPI and our other COVAX partners are working on several options for accelerating production and supply.

We’re in ongoing discussions with the Government of India about the supply of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India;

We’re working to accelerate the release and rollout of vaccines from SK Bio in the Republic of Korea;

We’re trying to expedite the delivery of the J&J vaccine;

We’re continuing to seek donations of doses from countries who have enough to cover their entire populations several times over – not in several months’ time, but now;

We’re expediting the review of more vaccines including from Sinopharm, Sinovac and Gamaleya;

And we’re in discussions with several countries as we seek to expand global manufacturing capacity.

It’s stunning to think that less than a year after the ACT Accelerator was launched, vaccines have been approved and vaccination has started in almost all countries.

None of this would have been possible without our partners in COVAX, including Gavi.

Today I’m delighted to welcome my friend Dr Seth Berkley, the Chief Executive Officer of Gavi.

Seth, thank you so much to you and your team for everything you have done, and everything you continue to do. Thank you so much for your leadership. Seth, the floor is yours.

[DR BERKLEY ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much, Seth, for your leadership and partnership. I look forward to continuing to work with you to achieve our vision of vaccines for all.

And even as we work to expand access to vaccines, we’re continuing to keep a close eye on vaccine safety.

Earlier this week, the European Medicines Agency and the Medicines and other Health Products Agency from the United Kingdom said that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The COVID-19 subcommittee of the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has reviewed available information from Europe and other regions and has said that a causal relationship between the vaccine and the occurrence of blood clots with low platelets is plausible, but more investigation is required.

WHO, EMA and MHRA continue to recommend that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk of these very rare side effects.

All vaccines and medicines carry a risk of side effects. In this case, the risks of severe disease and death from COVID-19 are many times higher than the very small risks related to the vaccine.

And we continue to appeal to all people to please, be careful. Vaccines are giving us light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not there yet.

And vaccines are only one of the many tools we have to prevent infections and save lives. The right approach is a comprehensive approach.

We must all continue to protect ourselves and those around us by making the right choices.

We all have responsibilities, as individuals and leaders, in ending this pandemic.

Christian, back to you.