Remarks at the WHO EMRO Press Conference - COVID-19 and the COVAX Facility
As Delivered by Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa
1 April 20201 AMMAN/CAIRO
My good friend Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari
Distinguished colleagues from the press corps,
Good day to you all.
I would like to really thank Dr. Ahmad and WH for the invitation to join this press conference, and for the great solidarity, partnership, and friendship that we’d had with WHO.
Let me start to reiterate some of the basic information that’s been provided. UNICEF, on behalf of the COVAX Facility, has so far delivered more than 3 million doses of COVID vaccines to 10 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as Dr. Ahmed said, the latest deliveries were to Yemen and Egypt yesterday, with 360,000 doses, and 850,00 doses, respectively. Until now the COVAX facility was able to deliver vaccines to 10 countries including Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, The State of Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.
UNICEF is really delighted that we have this cooperation with WHO, GAVI, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations – that’s what makes up COVAX. And I specifically want to salute here the leadership of WHO and the cooperation that we had with WHO. Who has been a leader in the response to COVID and a great partner with us. We are committed, Together, to providing fair, equitable access to COVID vaccines for health care workers and vulnerable communities around the world including in our region. These deliveries are timely especially as we are seeing a surge, as Dr. Ahmed has said, in places like Djibouti, Oman, Syria and Yemen, and an increasing number of COVID-related deaths in Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. For these reasons, immunization is key.
We know that the vaccines delivered so far are far, far from enough. The COVAX facility is facing delays due to the global high demand and ongoing challenges with manufacturing. These delays do impact the size and volume of shipments to many countries including here in this regionAnd they do mean that many frontline workers have not all been reached with vaccination efforts.
The vaccination challenges we are facing are not unique to the Middle East and North Africa. But they are important and we realize that this is a global problem that needs global solutions. In this context, let me highlight a few points:
First is, really, we call for vaccine nationalism to end, because in the end we either win together, or we lose together – no one is safe until everyone is safe. So, as long-term clinical trials have affirmed the effectiveness of vaccine candidates is key – on the basis of that - a number of countries were able to secure agreements to get many, many doses and, as a result of that, some countries now have agreements in place to secure enough doses to vaccinate their adult populations several times over. This is creating a shortage in the market and is hurtful to the coordinated approach that we’re trying to have and it’s really important that we look at a fair distribution of vaccines.
In this regard, it is important that we address the vaccine wholistically. Protecting high-income countries alone will not allow life to return to normal. We urge wealthier nations to consider sharing doses that they have through the COVAX facility with the rest of the world.
We specifically urge that they work with WHO, with UNICEF, with COVAX to get these doses to lower-income countries. The whole world will remain vulnerable to the virus until all countries are at the equal level of protection.
Can I also say that COVAX has received some very generous contributions, but further funding is needed for the COVAX facility. UNICEF itself needs $659 million for the delivery of COVID-19 testing kits, treatments and vaccines in low- and middle-income countries to reach all high-risk groups and vulnerable communities by the end of 2021.
We call on the private sector to come forward and partner with the COVAX to help in increasing the deliveries and the equitable distribution of the vaccines. We also call on vaccine manufacturers to rapidly license, sub-contract and share the technology and the know-how with vaccine manufacturing partners - without volume or geographical restrictions - to rapidly scale supply. All barriers to capacity expansion should be removed including Intellectual Property Rights barriers.
Ahmed spoke to this but fighting misinformation on the disease and the safety and efficacy of the vaccines is absolutely key. Vaccines are safe and vaccines save lives. We really count on you, members of the press, to help us build confidence in the vaccines; the COVID vaccines, but also vaccination overall, so that people accept them. We count on you to continue spreading only the facts and share accurate and credible information. And both WHO and UNICEF are available for any questions you may have on this to be able to make sure that accurate information is out there. Our collective success is really important on getting the right information out there and countering myths and misinformation.
Finally, let me say a few things on the issue of the whole issue of: is vaccine the panacea – the solution on its own - and the answer is: on its own, it’s an essential tool but we do need to continue with preventive and health measures even as vaccination expands. I know we are all tired and we may be experiencing fatigue, but we have to continue. We have to continue wearing masks, washing hands, practising social spacing and avoiding physical contact as much as possible. We recognize “stay home” orders, curfews or lockdowns have profound economic consequences for people in the informal sector, for the less advantaged among us. These are very difficult measures and, indeed, they should only be applied when strictly necessary, which is why wearing masks, washing hands, practising social spacing, are things we can do, each of us can do. Please continue to encourage this as part of what you do.
In closing, let me end on a personal note. This has been a long, long journey. I think we all thought by now it will be over and that we would be in a place where we had gone to some kind of a new normal. Clearly, we’re not there yet, but we will get there – we will get there.
Working together and being there for each other as individuals respecting the wearing of the masks, the social distancing measures will make that difference and will get us to that light at the end of the tunnel that we want.
Thank you and look forward to getting your questions
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