But, like the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), he pointed to a number of positive signs, starting with the increase in vaccination coverage in all countries and in particular for high-risk populations.
Ten countries below the 10% vaccinated mark
Only ten countries, most of them affected by humanitarian emergencies, remain below the 10% vaccination mark, and on average, 75% of health workers and the elderly have been vaccinated, while new antiviral drugs, provided that they are available to all, contribute to preventing the deaths of the most vulnerable. Proof in the eyes of the UN chief that the virus is treatable, that we can save lives and keep the virus under control even among high-risk populations.
António Guterres, however, identified three major obstacles, without which the pandemic could be eradicated this year: the use of “boosters”, low in all countries, is particularly insufficient in low-income countries, where only a third of healthcare staff and elderly has been vaccinated, a consequence, in his eyes, of misinformation on this subject.
He also deplored the decline in screening, which exposes the planet to potential variants and hinders the implementation of new treatments, as well as the lack of health preparation, at a time when we have demonstrated our defenses through alert systems, by local industrial capacities and by a well-equipped and remunerated health workforce. “We must never again be caught off guard,” he said.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, for his part, welcomed that the death toll was approaching its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, but he regretted, in view of a recent report by the Council of the ACT Accelerator, that only 20% of the inhabitants of low-income countries are vaccinated, as well as the total absence of new antiviral drugs, even in middle-income countries.
© UNICEF/Fauzan Ijazah
Progress thanks to COVAX
Like the Secretary-General, the WHO leader has reduced progress, such as the delivery by the international solidarity mechanism COVAX, since the last United Nations General Assembly, of 1.5 billion doses of vaccines which have distributed 68 countries to reach their goal of 40% vaccinated.
He also pointed out that in the 92 countries that are members of the COVAX AMC vaccine access system, vaccination coverage has doubled and now exceeds 50%. In addition, access to medical oxygen has accumulated, while an agreement signed on September 22 between the Pfizer laboratory and the Global Fund promises to facilitate the distribution of the antiviral drug Paxlovid.
Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF, also reported significant progress, citing the 12.4 billion doses of vaccines administered worldwide with the support of UNICEF, the world’s largest purchaser of vaccines and humanitarian material; the delivery of 800 ultra cold chain freezers to 70 countries last year, and the 1.2 billion items of protective equipment provided to healthcare workers in 142 countries since 2020, as well as the 20,000 units of antiviral Monulpavir delivered to Cambodia.
Catherine Russell was delighted that at the end of these efforts, 10 countries have already vaccinated all of their healthcare personnel and that of the 34 countries where vaccination coverage was less than 10% at the start of 2022, 16 have now exceeded this bar. And four of them have reached 20% vaccinated.
But the head of UNICEF recalled that children are among the great victims of the pandemic, due to the disruption of their education and their health protection. In 2021 alone, 25 million children did not receive basic vaccinations, which represents the largest drop in vaccine protection in a generation, at the risk of erasing 30 years of progress in child health.
“If in the first months of the pandemic, it was difficult to reduce the impact on health services for children and basic vaccinations, it is time to reaffirm our commitments”, observed Catherine Russell. “By building stronger health systems, reducing access to routine care and vaccinations, we are ensuring the health of children and better preparing for future shocks”.