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October 22 2021 8:12 PM ˚

Expert urges more pressure on donors to secure vaccines for the have-not

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AMMAN — The US announced that it would share 19 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine with the COVAX initiative, part of a plan to share 80 million doses globally by the end of June, however, Mohannad Al-Nsour, executive director of the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network and member of the National Epidemiological Committee, said the donation is “a little bit late.”اضافة اعلان

While it is also “appreciated,” and a much needed boost for the vaccine sharing initiative, Nsour argued that wealthy countries have been reluctant to donate significant numbers of doses to the initiative, leading to a wide disparity in the vaccination rates between high-and low-income countries.

“This is a huge problem,” he said.

The COVAX initiative, founded by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to both distribute vaccines and the equipment and knowledge needed to administer them. “It’s sharing to make sure that we have equitable health and secure vaccine support for all the countries over the world,” Nsour said.

In late May at the Paris Peace Forum Spring Meeting, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described a state of “vaccine apartheid”, explaining that middle-to-low income countries, which account for almost half the world’s population, have only received 17 percent of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines.

Likewise, Nsour described the phenomenon of vaccine nationalism, through which governments prioritize vaccinating their own populations — at the expense of those in lower-income countries. In a previous interview with Jordan News, he pointed out that some wealthy nations, like the US and Canada, are even beginning to vaccinate children while health workers in other countries still wait for their shots. His comment echoed the head of WHO, Ghebreyesus, who has urged wealthy nations to delay vaccinating children in favor of donating excess doses to COVAX.

But even from the most selfish perspective, Nsour argued, countries have a motivation to quickly distribute the jabs across the globe. “Because in addition to the principles that we expected the world to be committed to, from the epidemiological point of view, the world cannot be secure if (...) the virus keeps circulating in countries with low (vaccine) coverage rates,” he said. “As long as we see low coverage rates, we expect to see new mutations and it means danger and insecurity for other countries.”

He highlighted the example of India, where the Delta variant originated. “What we saw in India, it has now affected the whole world,” he said. “No one is secure. No one will be safe unless everyone is,” he added, referencing a statement made by the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.

The epidemiologist emphasized the importance of the “global health security agenda,” describing the importance of coming together to fight a common enemy. “The enemy is a health enemy, the virus.”

In addition to the struggle to encourage wealthy countries to donate doses in the first place, COVAX has also run into problems with countries who did commit doses failing to deliver. An Indian company, for instance, had committed to donate a large number of COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX, which was disrupted by the country’s own massive outbreak. The BBC reported in mid-May that COVAX was 140-million doses short due to the crisis.

“COVAX is struggling,” said Nsour. “So the Biden administration, with this announcement, solved part of the problem.”

He called for countries to follow the US’ lead to distribute their excess doses to COVAX. “We have the example,” he said. “And that’s why we need to put more pressure on other countries.”

For Jordan, Nsour said, the donation of more vaccines to COVAX will be “very good.”

“It’s very good to make sure that we are increasing our coverage rates for our citizens and people who are residing in our territory,” he said.

On June 3, Jordan received 146 thousands of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX, its third batch of the shots. The country expects to receive a total of 2 million doses of AstraZeneca through COVAX, enough to vaccinate almost 10 percent of the population, as previously reported by Jordan News.

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