Taskforce on COVID-19 says vaccine inequity driving a dangerous divergence in COVID-19 survival

At its third meeting, the Multilateral Leaders Taskforce on COVID-19 (MLT) – the heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization -met with the leaders of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), Africa CDC, Gavi and UNICEF to tackle obstacles to rapidly scale-up vaccines in low- and lower middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, and issued the following statement:

“The global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is progressing at two alarmingly different speeds. Less than 2% of adults are fully vaccinated in most low-income countries compared to almost 50% in high‑income countries.

These countries, the majority of which are in Africa, simply cannot access sufficient vaccine to meet even the global goals of 10% coverage in all countries by September and 40% by end 2021, let alone the African Union’s goal of 70% in 2022.

This crisis of vaccine inequity is driving a dangerous divergence in COVID-19 survival rates and in the global economy. We appreciate the important work of AVAT and COVAX to try and address this unacceptable situation.

However, effectively tackling this acute vaccine supply shortage in low- and lower middle-income countries, and fully enabling AVAT and COVAX, requires the urgent cooperation of vaccine manufacturers, vaccine-producing countries, and countries that have already achieved high vaccination rates. To ensure all countries achieve the global goals of at least 10% coverage by September and 40% by end-2021:

We call on countries that have contracted high volumes of vaccines to swap near-term delivery schedules with COVAX and AVAT.

We call on vaccine manufacturers to immediately prioritize and fulfill their contracts to COVAX and AVAT, and to provide regular, clear supply forecasts.

We urge G7 and all dose-sharing countries to fulfill their pledges urgently, with enhanced pipeline visibility, product shelf life and support for ancillary supplies, as barely 10% of nearly 900 million committed doses have so far been shipped.

We call on all countries to eliminate export restrictions and any other trade barriers on COVID-19 vaccines and the inputs involved in their production.

We are in parallel intensifying our work with COVAX and AVAT to tackle persistent vaccine delivery, manufacturing and trade issues, notably in Africa, and mobilize grants and concessional financing for these purposes. We will also explore financing mechanisms to cover future vaccine needs as requested by AVAT. We will advocate for better supply forecasts and investments to increase country preparedness and absorptive capacity. And we will continue to enhance our data, to identify gaps and improve transparency in the supply and use of all COVID-19 tools.

Sierra Leone: President Bio Engages Development Partners on COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout Strategies

President Julius Maada Bio has engaged development partners and the diplomatic community on the successes of Sierra Leone in the fight against COVID-19 and the plan to roll out vaccination throughout the country.

The meeting brought together the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, NaCOVERC, UN Resident Coordinator, European Union, Deputy Head of the United States Embassy, British High Commission, Irish Embassy, Chinese Embassy, Germany Embassy, the World Bank Country Manager, UNICEF Country Representative and WHO Country Representative.

In his welcome statement, Chief Minister Professor David Francis said the second interface and strategic meeting between the government’s COVID-19 response Presidential Task Force and development partners within the DEPAC framework, was timely, adding that they would highlight the successes, challenges, a transition from the COVID-19 Emergency Response to post- emergency recovery and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio said the meeting was of special importance in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the country had fought a good fight.

“Some of the major objectives of our fight have been achieved by reducing mortality and also making sure that livelihoods are not compromised,” he assured, emphasising that science and data had always helped them in the fight against COVID-19.

He further stated that development partners were an integral part of the fight against the scourge, adding that the country was entering into an important milestone in the fight by administering the COVID-19 vaccines. He, therefore, said it was necessary that development partners were informed before the administration of those vaccines.

“We have received vaccines from the People’s Republic of China and another set from COVAX. We cannot roll these out without informing you as partners. On behalf of the people of Sierra Leone and myself, I want to thank you for the many challenges that you have to endure with us in our response to COVID. The support that you have given in terms of PPE and many other technical supports. We are very proud of the partnership between us and our donor community in Sierra Leone,” he said.

Giving out an overview on how the Coronavirus vaccines would be rolled out in the country, Dr Tom Sesay said that Sierra Leone had received 296,000 doses in total, of which 200,000 doses were from the People’s Republic of China and 96,000 doses from the COVAX facility.

“There will be a symbolic launch of the vaccines on Monday 15 March 2021 at State House. It will be for high-profile politicians. We are having a conservative target of 150 people on that day.

“It will be followed by a symbolic launch of the vaccines at the Miatta Conference Hall, where we will focus on the Health Care Workers, even though we will be prioritising those that are above 60 years of age. Vaccination for the rest of the country will start on the 22nd of March 2021,” Dr Sesay said.

Highlighting the many successes in the fight against COVID-19 so far, Minister of Defence and Interim Coordinator of NaCOVERC, Brigadier (Rtd.) Kellie Conteh, said before the outbreak in Sierra Leone government had put in place many structures that eventually helped in the fight. He added that President Bio had visited many areas in the country to assess the existing structures and the level of preparedness.

“Up till today, we have 3,932 positive cases of the Coronavirus, 1,639 of that number are from women, representing 41.6%, while 2,293 are male, representing 58.4% of the total positive cases. Western Area Urban remains the epicentre for infection in the country with 2,244 cases recorded so far.

“We have trained point-of-entry personnel on Coronavirus case detection across all our border entering points, provided a strategic plan for the response, including a transition plan. We are very much pleased with the laboratory successes because we started with three and today we have six functional labs across the country,” he stated.

The NaCOVERC boss also noted that when the virus entered the country in March 2020, they were testing at 100 per day, saying that they had now expanded the number of testing to 1,000 per day.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr Babatunde Ahonsi, thanked the President and the people of Sierra Leone for the opportunity to be a part of the dialogue on the cluster of health issues. He congratulated the country for the success so far achieved in dealing with the fight against Coronavirus.

“Recovering from COVID-19, in our view, is part and parcel of advancing Agenda 2034 Sustainable Development and the progress that can be very rapidly made in achieving the target within the National Development Plan. We still have work to do in terms of risk information and social mobilisation,” he noted.

He encouraged the government to vaccinate a large proportion of the population and encouraged Sierra Leoneans to continue to observe social distancing, hand washing and the use of facemasks.

“United Nations stands ready to continue to work with the Ministry of Health and NaCOVERC and other partners to ensure Sierra Leone is able to put Coronavirus behind us and, in the process of doing that, strengthen the health system to deal with future health emergencies and very quickly return to the path of sustainable national development,” he concluded.

Rotavirus vaccines made available for use in humanitarian crises

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) welcome the opportunity to make rotavirus vaccine available to more children living in humanitarian crises thanks to a landmark pricing agreement with the manufacturer, GSK.

Children living in refugee camps, displaced communities or in other emergency situations now have a better chance of being protected against severe diarrhoeal disease with these lower price rotavirus vaccines. Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of death among children under five.

The agreement makes use of the multi-partner Humanitarian Mechanism, launched in 2017. Rotavirus vaccine is the second vaccine  to be accessed through the scheme, which depends on manufacturers making their vaccines available at their lowest price for use in emergencies – across countries of all income levels. The first to be made available was the pneumococcal vaccine.

“We welcome this engagement from manufacturers and hope it will be a step towards making more vaccines available in the future at affordable prices,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO. “It is unacceptable that some of the most at-risk children are not vaccinated against devastating diseases like rotavirus because of lack of availability or high costs.”

Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoeal disease in children under 5 years globally, responsible for up to 200,000 child deaths each year. Children in refugee camps and displaced communities are among the most vulnerable in the world to such diseases, due to population density, poor hygiene and sanitation, and higher rates of malnutrition. Vaccination is therefore especially critical for these children, who may otherwise lack access to essential health services.

The Humanitarian Mechanism facilitates access to vaccines for humanitarian organizations working in countries affected by emergencies, where access and prices have otherwise been a bottleneck.

“Every day across the globe, children die because they are critically weakened by diarrhoea – it’s one of the biggest killers of young children in the world. Save the Children is seeing the devastating impacts the rotavirus has on children every day, so we welcome this important commitment as a vital step in protecting some of the most vulnerable children from life-threatening, yet easily preventable diseases. Money should never be a barrier between life and death,” said Rachel Cummings, Director of the Humanitarian Public Health Team at Save the Children.

Since 2017, nearly one million doses of pneumococcal vaccine have been approved for use by civil society organizations through the Mechanism in 12 countries: Algeria, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Greece, Kenya, Lebanon, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria. The pneumococcal vaccine protects against childhood pneumonia, also a leading cause of childhood deaths during emergencies.

Once secured through the Mechanism, the vaccines are offered to humanitarian organizations working in camps and other emergency settings, who can make applications to access the vaccine at these lower prices.

“The Humanitarian Mechanism has already expanded the number of children who can receive lifesaving vaccines, but to reach its full potential and save more lives, MSF calls on manufacturers to commit additional vaccines and to allow governments hosting children in humanitarian emergencies to access the vaccines too,” said Miriam Alia, Vaccination and Outbreak Response Referent at MSF. “Children everywhere, no matter where they live, should have access to lifesaving vaccinations.” 

“We know that it is critical for us to expand the reach and breadth of immunization coverage among communities affected by humanitarian crises to meet our goal of immunization equity in the next decade,” said Robin Nandy, UNICEF’s Principal Advisor and Chief of Immunizations. “These communities bear the brunt of preventable morbidity and mortality and have disproportionately suffered from programme disruptions as a result of the pandemic. We very much welcome this initiative which further expands access to rotavirus vaccine at affordable prices for populations in need.”

Joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Of the 128 million vaccine doses administered so far, more than three quarters of those vaccinations are in just 10 countries that account for 60% of global GDP.

As of today, almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose.

This self-defeating strategy will cost lives and livelihoods, give the virus further opportunity to mutate and evade vaccines and will undermine a global economic recovery.

Today, UNICEF and WHO – partners for more than 70 years – call on leaders to look beyond their borders and employ a vaccine strategy that can actually end the pandemic and limit variants.

Health workers have been on the frontlines of the pandemic in lower- and middle-income settings and should be protected first so they can protect us.

COVAX participating countries are preparing to receive and use vaccines. Health workers have been trained, cold chain systems primed. What’s missing is the equitable supply of vaccines. 

To ensure that vaccine rollouts begin in all countries in the first 100 days of 2021, it is imperative that:  

  • Governments that have vaccinated their own health workers and populations at highest risk of severe disease share vaccines through COVAX so other countries can do the same.
  • The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, and its vaccines pillar COVAX, is fully funded so that financing and technical support is available to lower- and middle-income countries for deploying and administering vaccines. If fully funded, the ACT Accelerator could return up to US$ 166 for every dollar invested.
  • Vaccine manufacturers allocate the limited vaccine supply equitably; share safety, efficacy and manufacturing data as a priority with WHO for regulatory and policy review; step up and maximize production; and transfer technology to other manufacturers who can help scale the global supply.

We need global leadership to scale up vaccine production and achieve vaccine equity.

COVID-19 has shown that our fates are inextricably linked. Whether we win or lose, we will do so together.”

Acute malnutrition threatens half of children under five in Yemen in 2021: UN

Nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, four United Nations agencies warned on Friday. Of these, 400,000 are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment.

The new figures, from the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition report released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, mark an increase in acute malnutrition and severe acute malnutrition of 16 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively, among children under five years from 2020. 

The agencies also warned that these were among the highest levels of severe acute malnutrition recorded in Yemen since the escalation of conflict in 2015.

Malnutrition damages a child’s physical and cognitive development, especially during the first two years of a child’s life. It is largely irreversible, perpetuating illness, poverty and inequality.

Preventing malnutrition and addressing its devastating impact starts with good maternal health, yet around 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women in Yemen are projected to be acutely malnourished in 2021.

Years of armed conflict and economic decline, the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe funding shortfall for the humanitarian response are pushing exhausted communities to the brink, with rising levels of food insecurity. Many families are having to resort to reducing the quantity or quality of the food they eat, and in some cases, families are forced to do both.

“The increasing number of children going hungry in Yemen should shock us all into action,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “More children will die with every day that passes without action. Humanitarian organizations need urgent predictable resources and unhindered access to communities on the ground to be able to save lives.”

Fighting in Yemen has lead to death, destruction and diseases

“Families in Yemen have been in the grip of conflict for too long, and more recent threats such as COVID-19 have only been adding to their relentless plight,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “Without security and stability across the country, and improved access to farmers so that they are provided with the means to resume growing enough and nutritious food, Yemen’s children and their families will continue to slip deeper into hunger and malnutrition.”

“These numbers are yet another cry for help from Yemen where each malnourished child also means a family struggling to survive” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “The crisis in Yemen is a toxic mix of conflict, economic collapse and a severe shortage of funding to provide the life-saving help that’s desperately needed. But there is a solution to hunger, and that’s food and an end to the violence. If we act now, then there is still time to end the suffering of Yemen’s children.”

Two billion COVID vaccine doses secured, WHO says end of pandemic is in sight

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is the first vaccine to be made readily available in some parts of the world

The end of the pandemic is in sight but we must not let our guard down, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, as he welcomed the news that the global vaccine partnership COVAX has lined up almost two billion doses of existing and candidate vaccines for use worldwide.

The huge vaccine reservoir means that COVAX, a 190-country international initiative that seeks to ensure all countries have equal access to coronavirus vaccines, can plan to start delivering the shots in the first quarter of 2021.

By mid-year it will have delivered enough doses to protect health and social care workers in all participating countries that have asked to get doses in that timeframe. All other participants should get sufficient doses to cover up to 20 per cent of their populations by the end of 2021, and further doses in 2022.

“This is fantastic news and a milestone in global health”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters attending an online press conference.

“This is a time for taking comfort that the end of the pandemic is in sight, but taking care that we do not let down our guard. We are all responsible for taking the measures to keep ourselves and each other safe, including during this holiday season.

“With today’s news the light at the end of the tunnel has grown a little bit brighter, but we are not there yet. And we will only get there together”, Tedros said

President Julius Maada Bio lunches first national drone corridor in West Africa

President Bio has said that his government is proud to launch the first national drone corridor in West Africa and putting
innovative technology to the service of Sierra Leone’s development aspirations.

“As I have reiterated, we may be a small nation, but we are doing big things. We
believe, as a nation, that we can leapfrog the constraints of history, of infrastructure,
and of geography to champion the small things that have a huge impact for our
development agenda and to reach the last mile.

The President reiterated that Sierra Leone was an inspired and innovative nation and
would continue to embrace technology because of the boundless opportunities it
offered to a growing nation. He added that his government was particularly energised about the possibilities of a drone technology that could service primarily
the human capital development priorities in free quality education, food security, and
quality healthcare and other ancillary development benefits.

“Here is a profile of possibilities: For Agriculture and food security, drone technology can provide a bird’s eye view of a farmer’s crop, help in damming and irrigation pathways, spray fertilisers and insecticides more efficiently, and help in general crop monitoring and management; drone technology can help monitor green cover loss and adequately anticipate general problems related to climate resilience and biodiversity loss as a result of human activity.

“In education, drones offer dynamic experiential learning for students especially in STEAM disciplines and expand the possibilities for teaching new curricula and new disciplines that are critical to national development from waste management, urban planning, to infrastructure management to eco-tourism.

“For healthcare, drones can facilitate the rapid delivery of medical supplies for
pregnant women undergoing Postpartum haemorrhage and help stem maternal
mortality, vaccines, and life-saving medicines such as snake-bite serum, or deal with medical emergencies in otherwise inaccessible areas where there may be an outbreak of communicable diseases.

“For disaster management, drones can help with aerial surveying, mapping, and
closely examining disaster areas in order to predict and act on possible developments.

“Let me first thank UNICEF, DSTI, Njala University, the Civil Aviation Authority, and
citizens of the great Kori Chiefdom for collaborating to establish this seminal national drone corridor,” he said.

Vice Chancellor and Principal of Njala University, Professor Abdallah Mansaray, said that the event was a commemoration of the manifestation of the vision of President Bio and the tremendous strides that had been taken within a short time of the governmentin harnessing technology for development. He said that his institution was determined to face the challenges and transform itself into an institution that would surmount challenges of the twenty-first century.

UNICEF Representative to Sierra Leone, Sulaiman Brimah, commended the
government for the successful launch of the corridor, saying that that was an
example of a broad bold partnership framework. He said that he was excited to
witness the launch of West Africa’s first Drone Corridor that would support social
good and improve the situation of children of Sierra Leone.

Minister of Basic and Senior Education and Chief Innovation Officer, Dr David
Moinina Sengeh, said that he was pleased that they were using technology to
address the challenges of government. He said that the most important thing for
them was about the future of learning, research and industry in the country.
Dr Sengeh urged the administration of Njala University to consider making the
University a center of excellence for the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies,
where students would be able to access research and innovation.