COVID-19 vaccine must be freely available to all —Pres. Akufo-Addo advocates

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has advocated the need for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments to be made free and accessible to everyone, everywhere, when developed and approved.

He made the call in a tweet on Saturday to announce that he had joined more than 140 world leaders and experts to sign the UNAIDS Public letter on the people’s vaccine for COVID-19.

The letter was co-signed by the global leaders over the weekend, ahead of the World Health Assembly virtual meeting to be attended by health ministers across the world, today (Monday) May 18.

“Together with other global leaders, I signed the @UNAIDS Public letter on a people’s vaccine for #COVID-19. It is important that all people everywhere must have access to the vaccine when one becomes available. It must be the #People’s vaccine,” he tweeted.

Vaccines are meant to stimulate the immune system to produce anti-bodies to fight diseases. They have been used successfully over the years as additional tool to combat pandemics.

It takes at least one year and at most 20 years to develop a vaccine.  Currently more than 70 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are at various stages of development with a few of them at an advanced stage of clinical trial.

According to the public letter, “Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge. The same applies for all treatments, diagnostics, and other technologies for COVID-19.”

The global leaders advocated a global agreement on COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments – implemented under World Health Organisation – that ensures mandatory worldwide sharing of all COVID-19 related knowledge, data and technologies with a pool of COVID-19 licenses freely available to all countries.

The agreement, they said, should establish a global and equitable rapid manufacturing and distribution plan – that is fully-funded by rich nations – for the vaccine and all COVID-19 products and technologies that guarantees transparent ‘at true cost-prices’ and supplies according to need.

On the proposed free distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, tests and treatments, they suggested that frontline workers, the most vulnerable people, and for poor countries with the least capacity to save lives, should be prioritised.

“In a humanity today, in all its fragility, is searching for an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19. It is our best hope of putting a stop to this painful global pandemic. We are calling on health ministers at the World Health Assembly to rally behind a people’s vaccine against this disease urgently,” the letter said.

 According to the global leaders,  it was time for health ministers to renew the commitments made at the founding of the World Health Organisation, where all states agreed to deliver the “the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being”.

“Now is not the time to allow the interests of the wealthiest corporations and governments to be placed before the universal need to save lives, or to leave this massive and moral task to market forces. We cannot afford for monopolies, crude competition and near-sighted nationalism to stand in the way,” it said.

It said the world must learn from the painful lessons from a history of unequal access in dealing with diseases such as HIV and Ebola.

The letter acknowledged the tireless public and private sector efforts and billions of dollars of publicly-financed research, many vaccine candidates are proceeding with unprecedented speed and several have begun clinical trials.

 “Only a people’s vaccine-with equality and solidarity at its core – can protect all of humanity and get our societies safely running again. A bold international agreement cannot wait,” it said.

BY JONATHAN DONKOR

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