Europe and drug groups must work together to accelerate Covid-19 vaccinations and share doses with poorer countries, the head of the European Division of the World Health Organization said on Friday, expressing concern over the spread of virus variants.
“We must agree to speed up vaccinations,” WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge told AFP in an interview, as Europe offers to overcome a slow start to its vaccination campaign in tensions between Brussels and vaccine manufacturers.
Kluge said that competing pharmaceutical companies must join efforts to “drastically increase production capacity”.
In the European Union, only 2.5% of the population has received a first dose of vaccine, although announcements from several laboratories about increased vaccine deliveries have raised hopes of an acceleration.
Asked if the vaccines available since December would be effective against new virus variants, Kluge replied: “That’s the big question. I’m worried.”
“We must be prepared” for new problematic mutations of the virus, he warned, urging countries to expand their genomic sequencing capacity.
He added: “It is a cruel reminder that the virus still has the upper hand in humans.”
Tunnel ‘a little longer’
Of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region – which includes several countries in Central Asia – 37 have reported cases of the British variant and 17 have registered cases of the South African variant.
While the fight against the pandemic now seems more challenging than in December when the first vaccines became available, Kluge remained optimistic.
“I’m going to be honest, I think the tunnel is a little longer than I thought at the end of December, but it’s going to be manageable, more preventable this year,” he said.
“” The solution or “strategy” does not exist. We have to get better at what we do and we get better, “Kluge added.
He reiterated the WHO’s call on rich countries to show solidarity with poor countries that could not buy vaccines and called on rich people to split their doses after inoculating part of their own population.
Kluge suggested that richer countries share their vaccines after inoculating “the elderly, healthcare professionals and people with comorbidity” – without waiting to exceed the 70% threshold required to achieve flock immunity.
“If they hit 20% of their population, maybe it’s right now that they can already start sharing some vaccines,” he said.
No to “vaccination pass”
The milestone of 100 million vaccine doses administered passed on Tuesday, with 65 percent of jabs in high-income countries, according to World Bank criteria.
In an effort to combat “vaccinationalism”, the WHO has set up Covax, a global vaccination sharing initiative to help poor countries.
“We know that in the EU, Canada, the UK, the US, everyone ordered and did business for four to nine times more doses than they need. So my point here is, do not wait until you have 70% of the population (vaccinated) to share with the Balkans, to share with Central Asia, Africa, Kluge said.
While the WHO is for countries that issue vaccination certificates, Kluge was against the idea of ”vaccination passports” required for travel.
“We really do not want a situation where there are so-called vaccine passes, it is something we definitely do not subscribe to because it will increase inequality,” he explained.
( Jowharwith AFP)