WHO’s powerful warning on coronavirus vaccines as Australia signs historic deal

The World Health Organisation’s Director-General has pleaded with nations to avoid “vaccine nationalism” and stressed the importance of evenly distributing a future coronavirus vaccine across the globe.

At Tuesday’s media briefing, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world must avoid immunising entire countries, insisting it was beneficial to all countries to ensure vulnerable populations everywhere are vaccinated first.

“While there is a wish amongst leaders to protect their own people first, the response to this pandemic has to be collective,” he said.

Dr Tedros has stressed the importance of equally distributing the vaccine globally. Source: AAP/ Getty
Dr Tedros has stressed the importance of equally distributing the vaccine globally. Source: AAP/ Getty

“This is not charity, we have learned the hard way that the fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest risk populations everywhere, rather than the entire populations of just some countries.”

It comes as Australia announced it had struck a deal in the UK to guarantee the production of its vaccine developed and currently being trialled by the University of Oxford.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison boasted on Tuesday the deal would guarantee a free vaccine “for every Australian” if the trials prove successful.

But Dr Tedros stressed “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.

“If we can work together, we can ensure that all essential workers are protected and proven treatments like dexamethasone are available to those who need them,” he said.

He said it was “critical” countries don’t “repeat the same mistakes” seen over the distribution of PPE and coronavirus tests earlier in the pandemic.

“We need to prevent vaccine nationalism.”

The Morrison government has signed a letter of intent with British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to supply the vaccine to Australia, where it will then be produced.

While there is no guarantee the trials will be successful, Australia is “continuing discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researchers at the same time to find a vaccine”, according to Mr Morrison.

Who would get the vaccine first?

An expert panel would decide who gets the vaccine first, with the elderly, frontline workers and those with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma likely to be selected.

According to the WHO, high-risk individuals make up roughly 20 per cent of a nation’s population.

“If we don't protect these highest risk people from the virus everywhere and at the same time, we can't stabilise health systems and rebuild the global economy,” Dr Tedros said.

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