World Health Organisation envoy Carl Bildt says the pandemic ‘nowhere near the end’

World Health Organisation envoy Carl Bildt says the pandemic ‘nowhere near the end’

The US last month upped its pledge to 1.1 billion doses, and the European Union has committed to sharing 500 million. Britain has promised 100 million, Japan 60 million, Australia 21 million and Canada 13 million.

“We don’t need any more numbers. We have numbers, now it’s a question of … tracking how these commitments are transformed into real deliveries,” Mr Bildt said. “We need to deliver, that’s the name of the game at the moment.“.

So far, the US has managed to ship only about 140 million doses, and the EU countries a mere 44 million.

Although 30 per cent of the world’s adult population has been vaccinated, three-quarters of those people live in just 10 countries.

In most Western countries, more than 70 per cent of adults are double-jabbed. In higher middle-income countries the average is 54 per cent of people at least single-jabbed; in lower middle-income countries just 30 per cent. And in the poorest tranche of countries, a mere 2 per cent have had even one dose.

“There is a large part of the world that is seriously behind. We must catch up with that, and it’s in all our interests to do that,” Mr Bildt said.

One challenge lies in the growing evidence that vaccine-based immunity to COVID-19 starts to wane after six months, prompting many rich countries to offer booster jabs or third doses rather than ship the stockpile to unvaccinated places.

Mr Bildt said many rich countries were holding two or three times the amount of vaccine they needed.

“The richer countries have enough excess doses both to give booster doses to those in the groups who really need it – and I stress it’s only some cases that it’s actually needed – and to deliver on their commitments to other countries that are in need,” he said.

“We now have a situation where vaccine production is increasing, we probably have a doubling of the monthly production rate by the end of this year. The excess doses are there in the rich countries.”

Mr Bildt said he was reasonably confident the target could be met, and was heartened by US President Joe Biden adding his “convening power and diplomatic muscle” to the effort.

The G20 leaders’ summit at the end of this month would be a chance to “take stock”, he said, with Mr Biden then likely to hold a follow-up conference to crack the whip if deliveries fail to match the promises.

Mr Bildt is the WHO envoy for the ACT-Accelerator, a private-public partnership to speed up the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

Many of the jabs are being distributed via COVAX, which is the better-known vaccines pillar of the ACT-Accelerator.

So far COVAX has shipped about 300 million doses, reaching 142 countries – including Australia, because while some of COVAX’s distribution goes to poorer countries, richer countries can also buy vaccines through the scheme.

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