Governments around the world are no better prepared today to deal with a new global disease threat than they were just before the coronavirus outbreak began in late 2019, a panel from the World Health Organization in a report released Wednesday.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has called for an overhaul of the global approach to epidemics, which it considers outdated and inadequate. The group, established in July 2020, made recommendations last year to improve political leadership, funding and oversight systems. But it seems that little has changed since then.
“A year later, and the political attention to prepare for more waves is waning,” wrote the authors, led by Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand; and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia. “Work has begun to prevent the next pandemic, but at the current rate the transformative change required will take years to complete.”
The report was released ahead of the World Health Organization’s annual policy-making forum, the World Health Assembly, which begins next week in Geneva. It echoes a report late last year that said the world remained “dangerously unprepared” for the next major outbreak.
The authors of the new report focused on the unequal distribution of vaccines around the world as one of the main obstacles to overcome. The problem is highlighted by the unfolding coronavirus crisis in North Korea, one of two countries – the other is Eritrea – that have yet to begin vaccinating their residents. North Korea said the number of suspected coronavirus infections approached 1.5 million on Tuesday.
WHO officials in Geneva told reporters on Tuesday that uncontrolled transmission of the virus could allow new variants to emerge, a point that was reiterated by the expert panel’s new report.
“Variants may still emerge that our vaccines cannot handle,” the panel wrote. “The faster we vaccinate now, the less chance there is of more and more variants emerging.”
The group is pushing to expand the development and supply of therapeutic and diagnostic tests.
He noted that on balance, high-income countries had secured enough Covid vaccine doses to vaccinate their entire population twice, through direct deals with vaccine makers to purchase existing supplies and production. future. This has left many low- and middle-income countries without adequate vaccine supplies.
Less than 13% of people in low-income countries are considered fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the report.
Germany on Wednesday announced plans to spend an additional $870 million to purchase more vaccines to prepare for possible new variants this fall. Around 80% of Germans are vaccinated, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data project.
Vaccine production is now at its limit, the panel said, adding that new manufacturing capacity for mRNA and other vaccines must be built urgently in Africa, Latin America and other low-income regions. low and intermediate. “Scaling up production takes time, so activating it must start now,” the report said.
The panel applauded President Biden’s second Covid-19 summit, held virtually last week. But he said “a ‘charity’ approach does not serve the interests of ending this pandemic or addressing future pandemic threats”.