The world could suffer a “massive global setback” in the fight against the coronavirus disease with the emergence of new virus variants, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. She called on governments and businesses to pursue voluntary licensing of COVID-19 vaccines, end vaccine nationalism and share excess doses to COVAX.
There remain countries that have yet to receive a single vaccine dose, while others have contracted enough doses to vaccinate their populations multiple times, she said.
“This threatens us all. The virus and its mutations will win,” she said in a statement published April 6.
The World Bank president says that as vaccine supplies increase in low-income countries, "vaccinator capabilities" must expand in parallel.
The UNICEF head urged intellectual property holders to “simplify Intellectual Property Rights” through voluntary and proactive licensing, instead of “forced IP waivers.” She also urged them to enter into partnerships to share vaccine technology and know-how, and subcontract to manufacturers “without undue geographic or volume restrictions.”
Governments should also remove direct and indirect export and import control measures that block, restrict or slow down vaccine exports, ingredients and supplies, and immediately loan, release or donate most or all of their excess contracted doses for 2021 to COVAX, she said.
Governments with sufficient vaccine supply should also consider donating at least 5% of their available doses “right away” and commit to further contributions throughout the year, the statement said.
Why it matters: There are some concerns that COVID-19 variants may render COVID-19 vaccines ineffective. South Africa put on hold the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the country last month after data from a small study showed significant reduction in efficacy against the B.1.351 variant.