Tufton: Access to COVID-19 vaccines could get worse

Tufton: Access to COVID-19 vaccines could get worse

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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MINISTER of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton says the emerging inequities in access to COVID-19 vaccines could potentially get worse, propelled by fears of the virus, coupled with the approval and manufacturing process not keeping pace.

“This is naturally going to mean persons, companies and countries trying to access by whatever means and at higher prices. It's expected,” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.Dr Tufton was responding to concerns raised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday that suggests that the COVAX facility which should ensure equal access to vaccines by rich and poor countries could be at risk.Director-general of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lashed out at the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between rich and poor countries, telling a WHO board meeting that “the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure” that could result in more loss of lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries.He pointed out that more than 39 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in a minimum of 49 high-income countries, compared to a scant 25 doses, which have been administered in one lowest-income country.

Countries like Jamaica are depending on the COVAX facility, for fair access to COVID-19 vaccines as they become available. The Caribbean Regional Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has already made a multimillion-dollar downpayment on behalf of several countries in the region for access to vaccines through COVAX.Tedros said, “even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritise bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong”.

The WHO chief said member countries are now worried over whether COVAX will get enough vaccines and if rich countries will remain faithful to their promises.

Dr Tufton said that with an unpredictable virus, a delay in the anticipated distribution timelines for countries like Jamaica is always possible “but I think our [Jamaica's] numbers are conservative and so achievable”.

He said given the demand and supply crossroads which the world now faces with the COVID-19 vaccine, the COVAX facility is especially important. “It's important that countries like Jamaica and in the Caribbean continue to lobby for a United global approach even while we accept the temptation for bilateral arrangements,” he said.

“We should also accept that friendly countries will seek to establish support between themselves and that should be allowed, but not at the expense of COVAX or any global initiative,” the health minister said.The WHO said notwithstanding COVAX, 44 bilateral deals were signed last year, and at least a dozen have already been signed since the start of 2021.Tedros said the situation is made worse by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritised regulatory approval in rich countries where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO.

“This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption.

“Not only does this me-first approach leave the world's poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it's also self-defeating,” Tedros warned.


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