UK's COVID-19 vaccinations, WHO Foundation’s new head, and Ethiopia’s UN shooting: This week in development

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A nurse prepares to inject care home staff with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a residential care home in Belfast. Photo by: Liam McBurney / PA via Reuters

The U.K. launches the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine campaign, the WHO Foundation announces its first CEO, and Ethiopian security forces shoot at and detain U.N. workers. This week in development:

The United Kingdom became the first country to roll out a COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Tuesday. Margaret Keenan, a 90-year old woman was the first person in the world to receive a clinically authorized, fully tested COVID-19 vaccine. The campaign, using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, will first inoculate front-line health workers, people over 80, and nursing home workers. Those receiving the vaccine will need a second jab 21 days after the first dose. The vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which will present a challenge when vaccinating people in assisted-living homes. The U.K. has purchased 40 million doses of the vaccine, with much of it expected to arrive next year. On Wednesday, the U.K. Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency warned that people with a history of serious allergic reactions shouldn't receive the vaccine, after two National Health Service workers had adverse reactions following the vaccine. The agency is investigating whether these reactions were linked to the vaccine. Médecins Sans Frontières issued a statement this week saying that distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines won’t be scaled up globally unless the companies work to increase production through the sharing of intellectual property, technologies, and data, as well as selling the vaccines at cost. “Right now, we’re in a situation where a lion’s share of the limited number of first doses have already been snatched up by a handful of countries like the US and UK, as well as the EU, leaving very little for other countries in the short term,” wrote Dr. Sidney Wong, executive co-director of the organization’s Access Campaign. In other vaccine news, China’s government-funded vaccine, developed by state-owned Sinopharm, had a 86% efficacy rate in preliminary data from late-stage clinical trials in the United Arab Emirates with 31,000 participants. The vaccine can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures, unlike vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, making it a more practical option for low-resource environments.  

The World Health Organization Foundation named its first CEO on Monday. Anil Soni will lead the recently launched foundation starting in January. Soni has worked in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, most recently as head of Global Infectious Diseases at the pharmaceutical company Viatris. One of his achievements at the company was his work in shortening the amount of time needed to make low-cost medicines available in high-burden settings, according to WHO. The foundation, an independent grant-making organization, was launched in May in an effort to broaden WHO’s funding base, with more sustainable, predictable funding, and to simplify the process of accepting philanthropic contributions. The majority of funding to the agency has come from member states and other donors and is tightly earmarked, putting operational limitations on the agency. The foundation aims to attract funding from new sources, including the general public, high net worth individuals, and the private sector. The foundation is legally separate from WHO, but will facilitate contributions to the agency under a memorandum of understanding between the two parties. It aims to raise $1 billion in three years. Soni told Devex that the foundation will make publicly available ethical guidelines on how it engages with the private sector, and will disclose where the money comes from and where it is going.  

Ethiopia’s security forces shot at and detained United Nations workers who were trying to access the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. This incident comes days after an agreement was announced between the U.N. and the Ethiopian government last week to open humanitarian access — aid workers have not been able to access the region for a month as roads have been blocked and communications cut off. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general, said “these are alarming reports, and we are engaging at the highest level with the Federal Government to express our concerns and avoid any such incidents in the future.” As reported by the Associated Press, senior government official Redwan Hussain blamed the U.N. staffers, saying they broke through checkpoints. “They were told in some areas they were not supposed to move. But they indulged themselves in a kind of adventurous expedition,” he said. The workers have since been released. Negotiations are still ongoing with the government on the humanitarian access agreement, meaning that aid has not yet been able to reach the region. Aid workers are concerned that they will have severe limitations on their work and will only be able to access government-controlled parts of the region, which could mean that populations would be left without aid. 

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a Global Health Reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.