WHO leader supports pope’s call for fair, global access to vaccine

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this photo illustration. (CNS Illustration/Dado Ruvic, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY—The head of the World Health Organization, which has been strongly advocating rapid, fair and equitable access to potential COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, voiced support for Pope Francis’ similar call for global protections.

Pope Francis made appeals Aug. 19 both on Twitter and at his weekly general audience insisting that any vaccine developed for the novel coronavirus help everyone, not just the wealthiest or one nation over another.

“The response to the pandemic is therefore dual. On the one hand, it is essential to find a cure for this small but terrible virus, which has brought the whole world to its knees. On the other, we must also cure a larger virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalization, and the lack of protection for the weakest,” the pope, @Pontifex, said on Twitter.

“I couldn’t agree more with Your Holiness,” the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, replied as he retweeted the papal tweet on his account, @DrTedros.

“The #Covid19 pandemic shows that we must make health a human right for all and not allow it to be a privilege for the few. It also gives us an opportunity to rebuild a better, safer, fairer world — together!” he replied in his tweet Aug. 20.

The World Health Organization has been promoting and gaining increasing support from more than 70 countries to join the so-called COVAX facility and advanced market commitment, which would guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.

Countries are being asked to finance the vaccines from their own budgets and partner with lower-income countries with possible added support from donations in order to help countries have a guaranteed share and allocation of vaccines.

Ghebreyesus said at a news conference Aug. 18 that “the response to this pandemic has to be collective.”

“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,” he said.

The world must prevent “vaccine nationalism” and start planning now “to prepare to vaccinate and treat the world as new technologies come down the pipeline.”

“As we accelerate the science, solidarity is needed to provide a joint solution to the pandemic,” he added.

He said the WHO will continue “to promote science, solutions and solidarity because we believe to our core that we do it best when we do it together.”

By Carol Glatz