The U.N. secretary-general and the head of the World Health Organization launched an ambitious strategy Thursday to have 40% of the world’s population vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of this year, and 70% by mid-2022.
“With vaccine production now at nearly 1.5 billion doses per month, we can reach 40% of people in all countries by year’s end — if we can mobilize some $8 billion to ensure that distribution is equitable,” U.N. chief Antonio Guterres told a news conference.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 6.5 billion doses have already been administered worldwide. Another 5 billion are needed to meet the 70% benchmark, which Tedros said current vaccine manufacturing rates can handle.
“This is not a supply problem, it is an allocation problem,” he said, adding it is critical that the elderly, health care workers and other at-risk groups are prioritized.
An earlier goal to vaccinate 10% of every country’s population by the end of September fell short, with 56 countries, mainly in Africa and the Middle East, unable to meet the target. WHO said 200 million doses are needed to get those countries to meet the 10% target.
“That’s a week’s worth of the global supply,” said Katherine O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunization vaccines and biologicals. “If that can’t be achieved, there really needs to be a fine point put on that.”
To get to the 40% benchmark, Tedros urged countries which have already achieved high coverage to swap their place in the vaccine distribution line with countries that have had less access.
“We can only achieve our targets if countries and companies put contracts for COVAX and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) first for deliveries and donated doses,” Tedros said. “We have the tools to bring the pandemic under control if we use them properly and share them fairly.”
WHO officials said that achieving the 40% vaccination target would essentially end the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic, but if the targets can’t be reached, the risk continues of new variants emerging that may be vaccine resistant.
“It is ambitious, but it is very doable,” said Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to Tedros. He said the doses are paid for, but that the issue is getting them prioritized for distribution through the COVAX facility and AVAT, so they reach the countries that are lagging.
The strategy also urges vaccine-producing countries to share technology and licensing to help other nations scale up production of doses. It also calls on vaccine manufacturers to prioritize fulfilling contracts with COVAX and AVAT, so doses go to the neediest countries. There is a role for international financial institutions, as well, in assisting countries in accessing the funding needed for domestic delivery of doses.
WHO said a three-step approach to vaccination should be taken, targeting the elderly, health care workers and high-risk groups first, followed by all adults and lastly, adolescents.
There have been more than 236.67 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and at least 4.8 million deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks global data on the infection.