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Panel asks for 2 billion shots

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The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response formerly Co-chaired by Liberian ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand Helleh Clark calls on high-income countries with a vaccine pipeline for adequate coverage of their populations to commit immediately to providing vaccines to the 92 low- and middle-income countries covered by COVAX. It sets as a target, redistribution of at least one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines not later than September 1, 2021 and another one billion doses by mid next year to ease the current pandemic, particularly in low income countries that are lagging behind in response.

The Panel notes that the world is far from meeting those targets, adding that though some commitments have been made, much more needs to be done urgently.The recommendations, read before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, are contained in the Panel’s final report titled, “Elevating political leadership for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.”

It calls on the UN General Assembly to play a key role in ensuring that the international system is better able to act against future pandemic threats.Former President Sirleaf notes that there has long been underinvestment in pandemic preparedness, and that failure to prepare and use those preparations to respond in a timely manner, has resulted in a runaway pandemic which not only has taken millions of lives, but also is forecast to have a $22 trillion impact on the world economy by 2025.

She says the lack of adequate social protection in many countries, which is especially needed in times of crisis, has served to widen inequalities while the most vulnerable in societies are suffering the most from the pandemic, pushing tens of millions more people into extreme poverty.

In May 2020, the World Health Assembly through a consensus resolution requested the WHO Director-General to initiate an impartial, independent, and comprehensive review of the international health response to COVID-19.
Accordingly, DrTedros commissioned New Zealand Prime Minister Hellen Clark and former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to convene an Independent Panel.

“Our main report was presented to the 74th World Health Assembly in May of this year. The wide attention paid to it suggests that the world may be prepared to change course and agree to take steps to prevent a future pandemic catastrophe. Our Panel believes that it is essential that it does”, Madam Sirleaf urges She says globally, there have been nearly 190 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 4 million deaths reported to WHO, but these shocking figures are almost certainly an underestimate of the real toll of the disease, and describes the pandemic as an ongoing disaster which the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response believes could have been averted if the countries of the world had heeded the many warnings and prepared their health and surveillance systems – and moved together in mutual transparency and solidarity.

“I know all too well that after Ebola struck Liberia and our neighbors, sincere promises of ‘never again’ were made but it took years an effective prevention response leaving us vulnerable to the next devastating pandemic.
So today there is a choice – to carry on with business as usual with the inevitability of a future pandemic catastrophe, or to make real and lasting change.

That choice is clear: now we must act – this must be the last pandemic to cause devastation on the scale we are witnessing today. We need a stronger international system for pandemic preparedness and response that understands the threats, is alert, and is poised to take collective action. The job can’t be done by any single country working alone. It can’t even be done by a group of countries, no matter how willing, because we are only as strong as our weakest link. Therefore, the UN General Assembly has a decisive role to play in strengthening the multilateral infrastructure so that it can identify and respond more quickly to the next virus with pandemic potential.”

Prime Minister Clark, reading the report, calls for the Access to COVID Tools Accelerator or ACT-A to be fully funded, saying, “Right now, vaccine demand outstrips supply. Even if all the existing vaccines were redistributed, the total amount available would be grossly insufficient.”

She calls for rapid scale up of manufacturing of vaccines, urging WHO and partners to make this happen. “We recommended that WHO and WTO together immediately convene manufacturing countries and manufacturers to push forward on that and are delighted that such a meeting has taken place recently.”

According to the New Zealand Prime \minister, vaccine inequity is a key factor in the wave of death seeing across Africa, Asia and Latin America. She says it’s astonishing and self-defeating that pharmaceutical manufacturers continue not to share the technology or know-how which could help quickly scale manufacturing, adding, “Because of that, we see the temporary waiver of patents under the WTO’s TRIPS agreement as a key tool which should be at countries disposal and urge a swift resolution to the protracted discussion on that.”

She discloses that the Panel has called on all countries to utilize all the public health tools available to them to curb COVID-19 transmission, including masking, physical distancing, testing and contact tracing, and isolation, among othersShe notes the pandemic has shown the importance of multilateralism, global leadership, and whole-of-society and whole-of-government approaches, stressing the international system needs to work as a coherent and effective system as well as work across sectors and silos.

“That is why we have come to you – the UN General Assembly. Our Panel believes that the General Assembly has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the international system is co-ordinated and empowered to identify and act against future diseases with pandemic potential. The Panel proposes that a negotiated political declaration be adopted by the UN General Assembly later this year to set out road map for a stronger international system for the future.

“That roadmap should set out the architecture required and the steps to be taken to create it. It should encompass support for a new high-level oversight council, a dedicated financing mechanism, a new pandemic convention, and a redesigned, permanent mechanism replacing ACT-A based on a global public goods model”, MP Clark recommends. Story by Jonathan Browne

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