WHO worries about vaccine sharing

The World Health Organization has announced it will create a new vaccine-sharing mechanism to stem monkeypox outbreaks in more than 30 countries outside of Africa. The move could prompt the UN health agency to distribute the rare vaccine doses to wealthy countries that could otherwise afford them.

For some health experts, the initiative may miss an opportunity to control the monkeypox virus in African countries where it has been infecting people for decades, once again illustrating the injustice in vaccine distribution seen during the coronavirus pandemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency was developing an initiative for “equitable access” to vaccines and treatments and hoped to have it ready within weeks. The mechanism was proposed shortly after Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the United States and other countries reported hundreds of monkeypox cases last month. The WHO described the outbreak as “unusual” and said the continued spread of the virus was worrying enough to convene its panel of experts next week to decide whether monkeypox should be declared a global emergency.

Vaccines against smallpox, a related disease, are believed to be about 85% effective against monkeypox. The WHO Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge said Wednesday he was concerned that some wealthy countries are scrambling to buy more vaccines, let alone buying some for Africa. dr Kluge urged governments to “tackle monkeypox without repeating the mistakes of the pandemic.” Still, he didn’t rule out that countries like Britain, which is currently experiencing the largest outbreak outside of Africa, could receive vaccines through the WHO mechanism. He said the program will be made for all countries and the vaccines will be widely distributed according to their epidemiological needs. “Europe remains the epicenter of this growing epidemic, with 25 countries reporting more than 1,500 cases, or 85% of the global total,” noted Dr. clever.

Some African experts have questioned why the UN health agency has never offered to use vaccines in central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic. “The place to start vaccination should be Africa and nowhere else,” said Dr. Ahmed Ogwell, acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He added that the shortage of monkeypox vaccines on the continent, where more than 1,500 suspected cases and 72 deaths have been reported this year, is a more critical problem than clusters of mainly mild illnesses being reported in wealthy countries. “This is an extension of the injustice we’ve seen during COVID,” said Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, director of policy and advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch. “From 2017 to date we have had hundreds of cases of monkeypox in Nigeria and we are dealing with them alone,” he said. “No one discussed when there might be vaccines for Africa. »

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, global health authorities rushed to set up COVAX, a United Nations-backed initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. But rich countries bought most of the world’s supply, and the COVAX program missed several goals to share doses with the world’s poor. So far, only about 17% of people in poor countries have received a dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Some experts fear the same could happen to monkeypox. “Just like with COVID, there is no clear way poorer countries can get vaccines,” said Brook Baker, a law professor at Northeastern University who specializes in vaccine and drug access. He warned that wealthy countries that have previously committed doses may not cooperate when the WHO tries to find out how many vaccine doses are available. “Rich countries will protect themselves while people in the South die,” predicted Baker.

On Monday, advocacy group Public Citizen sent a letter to the White House asking if the Biden administration would release the 20 million smallpox vaccines the United States approved in 2004 for use by the WHO in an emergency, such as a biological attack , had promised. When asked about the commitment, a senior US official said the government was “examining all options” to continue efforts to contain monkeypox in the United States and around the world. The official said the United States had returned more than 200,000 doses of a smallpox vaccine to the manufacturer to make available to others. The official declined to say whether the United States views the current monkeypox outbreak as an emergency warranting the release of the promised 20 million vaccines. Francois Balloux, an infectious disease expert at University College London, said vaccination efforts in wealthy countries should prompt a rethink of future monkeypox response strategies in Africa.

“It really should be a priority to vaccinate people in Africa, where there is a more virulent strain that has actually killed people,” he said, adding that further impacts of monkeypox are likely. “Whatever vaccinations are carried out in Europe, they will not solve the problem,” Balloux said.

Photo credit: PC.

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