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Global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines leaving out low-income countries?

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Only one of the 47 countries that have started coronavirus vaccination to date is a low-income country.

Countries in Africa, such as Ghana, are still far away from getting onto the list of countries benefiting from a vaccine, even as health experts and other stakeholders leading the COVID-19 response in Ghana express worries over the upsurge of cases.

The poor national response and lack of adherence to the safety protocols by a large segment of the Ghanaian population has come under heavy criticism.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) statement made available to ghanabusinessnews.com, has said the global vaccine “rollout has exposed glaring inequalities in access to this life-saving tool.”

Adding that, “more than 30 million vaccine doses have already been administered in 47 mostly high-income countries.”

The statement notes that “..the global vaccine rollout has exposed glaring inequalities in access to this life-saving tool. Only one of the 47 countries that have started vaccination to date is a low-income country.”

Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo, has announced efforts to get vaccines into the country before the first half of this year.

These vaccines, when available, are likely to be administered among some specific vulnerable groups in the country as a first step.

More than 2,800 scientists from 130 countries gathered a few days ago on January 15, in a virtual forum hosted by the WHO, to identify knowledge gaps and set research priorities for vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

They discussed the safety and efficacy of existing vaccines and new candidates, ways to optimize limited supply, and the need for additional safety studies.

“The spirit of collaboration has to prevail in these challenging times as we seek to understand this virus,” Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, is quoted as saying.

He added, “We have to be mindful of the inequalities and we must deliberately promote investment in regional capacities to level the playing field and have meaningful collaboration to begin to address some of the challenges.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in his opening remarks at the virtual meeting said the approval of the first few vaccines does not mean the job is done.

“Far from it. More vaccines are in the pipeline, which must be evaluated to ensure we have enough doses to vaccinate everyone.”

“The development and approval of several safe and effective vaccines less than a year after this virus was isolated and sequenced is an astounding scientific accomplishment,” he noted.

Experts agreed on the need for critical research on administering vaccines in different target populations, as well as on vaccination delivery strategies and schedules. This includes trials, modelling and observational studies, all of which would help to inform policy.

The meeting discussed the impact of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants on the efficacy of vaccines, the impact of vaccines on transmission of infection, and the need to develop the next generation of vaccine platforms.

“The world needs multiple vaccines that work in different populations in order to meet global demand and end the COVID-19 outbreak. Ideally, those will be single-dose vaccines that do not require cold chain, could be delivered without a needle and syringe and are amenable to large-scale manufacture,” Professor Mike Levine, Director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland, said during the meeting.

The meeting concluded with the agreement to establish a WHO-hosted platform for global sharing and coordination of emerging vaccine research information on efficacy and safety.

The forum would enable scientists to share and discuss unpublished and published data and research protocols to further collective understanding of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

“The WHO will regularly convene experts from around the world, promote collaborative research, provide standard protocols and develop a platform for sharing the latest knowledge in the field,” Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist, had noted during the virtual meeting.

By Eunice Menka

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