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Rich countries must share their supplies of COVID-19 vaccines quickly, in line with recommendations made earlier this year by an independent panel appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the former co-chairs said on Tuesday.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, expressed deep concern over the slow pace of vaccine redistribution from high-income to low-income countries.

The two former leaders served as co-chairs of the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), launched by WHO in July 2020. Its final report was published in May.

A critical step

“The Independent Panel report recommended that high-income countries ensure that at least one billion doses of vaccines available to them were redistributed to 92 low and middle-income countries by 1 September, and a further one billion doses by mid-2022”, they declared.  

“Ensuring that all those around the world most vulnerable to the impact of the virus, including healthcare workers, older people and those with significant comorbidities, can be vaccinated quickly is a critical step towards curbing the pandemic.”

Show solidarity

To date, the global solidarity initiative COVAX has shipped 99 million donated doses, they said.  While 92 countries have received some 89 million vaccines, this is far short of the one billion called for in the report.

“High-income countries have ordered over twice as many doses as are needed for their populations. Now is the time to show solidarity with those who have not yet been able to vaccinate their frontline health workers and most vulnerable populations,” the former leaders stated.

“Reaching the goal of redistributing one billion doses by 1 September would be a vital step in protecting the five billion people aged 15 and over who live in low- and middle-income countries. The 600 million doses which have already been pledged now need to be delivered with urgency”, they added.

Boost production

Additionally, rapid action is needed to step up vaccine production in low- and middle-income countries.

“Manufacturing capacity has to be increased and knowledge and technology shared in order to scale up production quickly,” the two experts recommended. “This pandemic has shown the global risks of locating the know-how and manufacturing facilities in just a handful of countries.”

The co-chairs have also welcomed the establishment of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology hub in South Africa, adding that more such announcements are needed.

“Low and middle-income countries must be able to produce more of their own vaccines and thereby help increase in general the amount of vaccine available to the world”, they said.