Anto­nio Guterres

‘people’s vaccines’: Anto­nio Guterres

AS the world yesterday recorded a “heart-wrenching milestone” of two million Covid-19 deaths, Uni­ted Nations Secretary-General Anto­nio Guterres said the pandemic’s impact has been exaggerated by a lack of global co-ordination—as he warned against inequity in the global distribution of a vaccine.

In a short statement addressing the global death toll and the advent of several promising Covid-19 vaccines, Guterres remarked on the human aspect of the pandemic’s tragic impact.

“Behind this staggering number are names and faces—the smile now only a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one,” Guterres said.

He added: “Sadly, the deadly impact of the pandemic has been made worse by the absence of a glo­bal co-ordinated effort. In the memory of those two million souls, the world must act with far greater solidarity.”

Guterres said “now is the time” as “safe, effective Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out”.

“And the UN is support­ing countries to mobi­lise the largest global im­­mu­nisation effort in history,” the secretary-general said.

He said the UN is committed to making sure that vaccines are seen as global public goods and as “people’s vaccines”.

That would require full funding for the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator and its (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) COVAX facility, which is dedicated to making vaccines available and affordable to all, Guterres said

Trinidad and Tobago is among more than 184 countries to have joined the COVAX facility, which offers more security in ensuring access to a safe, effective and affordable vaccine.

As a sovereign nation, T&T’s medical authorities may also seek alternatives outside the facility.

Health Minister Terrence Deyal­singh said earlier this month that the Government will be requesting 50,000 vaccines for 25,000 citizens who will each receive two doses on a phased basis, with the first batch of vaccines expected by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Healthcare workers, front line workers and the elderly will be among the first to receive as they are considered more vulnerable.

Deyalsingh said T&T was also in talks with vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca and China’s Sinopharm, to procure vaccines outside of COVAX.

The minister had said last year that Government was looking to procure 462,000 vaccines, at a cost of US$9.7 million, with an intention to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population, around 280,000 people, during the first phase of distribution.

Vaccines must reach all

Gueterres said the UN is today “seeing a vaccine vacuum”, and raised an alarm that “science is succeeding but solidarity is failing”.

“The world’s leading economies have a special responsibility,” Guter­­res said. “Vaccines are reaching high-income countries quickly while the world’s poorest have none at all.”

Some countries are pursuing side deals, even procuring beyond need, Guterres noted.

“Governments have a responsibility to protect their populations, but “vaccinationalism” is self-­defeat­­ing and will delay a global reco­very. Covid-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time.”

The UN has therefore called on manufacturers to step up their commitment to work with the COVAX facility and countries around the world to ensure enough supply and fair distribution.

“We need countries to commit now to sharing excess doses of vaccines,” Guterres said.

“This would help vaccinate all healthcare workers around the world on an urgent basis and protect health systems from collapse.”

Others on the front line, inclu­ding humanitarian workers and high-risk populations, must be prioritised, he said.

“To gain public trust, we must boost vaccine confidence and knowledge with effective communication grounded in facts,” the secretary-general said.

He said as the science continues to blaze new trails of hope, “let’s also remember the simple and proven steps we can all take to keep each other safe: wearing masks, physically distancing and avoiding crowds”.

“Our world can only get ahead of this virus one way—together,” Guterres appealed. “Global solidarity will save lives, protect people and help defeat this vicious virus.”

• See Pages 19 & 22