GENEVA (Reuters) – Economic recovery around the world could come faster if any COVID-19 vaccine is made available to all as a public good, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.
He was speaking in an online panel discussion with members of the Aspen Security Forum in the United States moderated by the NBC network.
“Sharing vaccines or sharing other tools actually helps the world to recover together. The economic recovery can be faster and the damage from COVID-19 could be less,” Tedros said.
“Vaccine nationalism is not good, it will not help us,” he said in an allusion to the competitive scramble of nations and pharmaceutical researchers to come up with an effective vaccine and order as many doses as possible in advance.
Tedros had said on Monday that while the coronavirus was the biggest health emergency since the early 20th century, the international race for a vaccine was also “unprecedented”.
“We must seize this moment to come together in national unity and global solidarity to control COVID-19,” he told Thursday’s forum. “No country will be safe until we are all safe.”
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan, asked about a proposed Russian vaccine, told the panel that trial data was needed to ensure any vaccines are safe and effective.
Ryan also said authorities should be able to demonstrate the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine via traditional clinical trials rather than “human challenge” studies.
He was referring to the intentional exposure of vaccinated volunteers to a virus to see whether the vaccine works.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was possible the United States would have a coronavirus vaccine before the Nov. 3 election – a more optimistic forecast than timing put forth by his own White House health experts.
Trump has accused the WHO of becoming a puppet for China – where the coronavirus outbreak first surfaced late last year – during the COVID-19 pandemic and given notice that the United States will quit the agency in a year’s time.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the WHO and had contributed more than $800 million by the end of 2019 for the 2018-19 biennial funding period.
But Tedros, who has denied that the WHO answers to China or any other country, told the panel that the main damage from the Trump administration’s move to exit the Geneva-based agency would not be the loss of funding.
“The problem is not about the money, it’s not the financing…, it’s actually the relationship with the U.S. That is more important for the WHO – the void, not the financial. And we hope then U.S. will reconsider its position,” he said.
(Reporting by Michael Shields and Ludwig Burger; editing by Mark Heinrich)