COVID-19: WHO chief asks countries to vaccinate 10% of population by Sept; why rapid vaccination is crucial

Drawing attention to vaccine “inequities” for a second time, World Health Organization chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday called for countries to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations by September. Stating this, he emphasised that vaccination is the best way to control the pandemic and reboot the global economy.

On 24 May, Ghebreyesus had made the same appeal for a rapid pace of vaccination at the WHO’s annual assembly. “Today, I’m calling on member states to support a massive push to vaccinate at least 10 percent of the population of every country by September,” he had said, and urged countries to expand the coverage to 30 percent by the end of the year.

“Vast inequities in the access to vaccines are fuelling a two-track pandemic. While some countries have reached a high level of coverage, many others don’t have enough to vaccinate health workers, older people & other at-risk groups,” he said in a virtual address to India Global Forum.

Asserting that when some countries cannot vaccinate, it’s a threat to all countries, Ghebreyesus called for a global effort to vaccinate at least 10 percent of the population of every country by September, at least 40 percent by the end of the year, and at least 70 percent by the middle of next year.

“Vaccine equity is not just the right thing to do. It’s the best way to control the pandemic and reboot the global economy,” the WHO chief said as he warned that “until we end the pandemic everywhere, we will not end it anywhere.”

What are the issues in vaccine distribution currently? According to a UN report, COVID-19 vaccination rates are uneven across countries, ranging from below 1 percent of the population in some countries to above 60 percent in others.

The UN-backed COVAX global vaccine sharing programme has faced a slow start to its campaign, as richer nations have locked up billions of doses through contracts directly with drug manufacturers. The COVAX has distributed just 81 million doses globally and in parts of the world, particularly in Africa.

“The pandemic shows the risk of relying on a few companies to supply global public goods like vaccines. The consequences of the resultant inabilities in the case of COVID-19 globally remain high in many areas even as new variants are emerging,” Ghebreyesus said.

Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to Ghebreyesus, last month said that the global alliance for equitable vaccine distribution is about 200 million (20 crore) doses behind where it should be due to disruption in COVAX supplies as a result of the devastating second wave of the coronavirus in India.

The Centre had suspended the export of COVID-19 vaccine doses — Pune-based Serum Institute of India is manufacturing the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine — as India faced an exponential second wave in April and May. The Opposition parties and health experts levelled criticism at the Narendra Modi government for exporting doses, which resulted in a domestic shortage.

What steps have countries taken to boost vaccine distribution? Last month, the G7 consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US pledged over 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the world’s poorest countries by the end of next year.

Countries like the US have also pledged tranches of vaccine doses on an individual level.

Why is the WHO pushing for increased vaccination? Vaccination will aid the all-important process of herd immunity, which is also known as ‘population immunity’, the WHO’s website said.

  • Specifically, herd immunity refers to indirect protection from an infectious disease that is created when a large chunk of a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity from a previous infection.
  • WHO supports achieving ‘herd immunity’ through vaccination, not by allowing a disease to spread through any segment of the population, as this would result in unnecessary cases and deaths. Herd immunity against COVID-19 should be achieved by protecting people through vaccination, not by exposing them to the pathogen that causes the disease.
  • “Vaccinated people are protected from getting the disease in question and passing on the pathogen, breaking any chains of transmission. To safely achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, a substantial proportion of a population would need to be vaccinated, lowering the overall amount of virus able to spread in the whole population,” the WHO’s website said.

How the rate of vaccination is intertwined with herd immunity: To achieve herd immunity against measles, 95 percent of the population must be vaccinated, a strategy by which the remaining five percent will be protected. Similarly, 80 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated for protection against polio.

Unfortunately, the threshold of vaccination to induce herd immunity against COVID-19 is not yet known, the WHO said.

On the home front, NITI Aayog member (Health) VK Paul and National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation in India (NTAGI chairperson Dr NK Arora said that quick vaccination is the key to opening the economy and added that the aim is to vaccinate one crore people every day.

“The third wave of the pandemic can be stopped if covid appropriate behaviour is followed and a majority of people are vaccinated,” said Paul.

Arora added, “Our aim is to vaccinate at least one crore people every day. Our capacity is such that we will easily be able to administer 1.25 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccine every day.”

How is COVID-19 around the world? Globally, the coronavirus has infected over 18.2 crore people and killed nearly 40 lakh, according to Johns Hopkins University.

India has recorded more than 3 crore coronavirus cases and registered nearly 400,000 deaths due to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic last year.

The cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in India has gone past 33.54 crore, including more than 25.14 lakh jabs given on Wednesday.

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