US role in vaccine search under question
The head of the World Health Organization on Friday said he is not sure if the United States government will join an initiative for equal access to drugs and vaccines for COVID-19.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the remarks in a virtual press conference from Geneva, when he was joined by Costa Rica's President Carlos Alvarado Quesada and President Sebastian Pinera of Chile, in a pre-launch of a new worldwide access initiative for COVID-19 health technologies, including vaccines, medicines and other solutions.
Asked by a Turkish journalist if the initiative will have support from US President Trump, Tedros said he could not answer that question. "You'd better ask the president," he said.
Relations between the WHO and the US government have soured after Trump accused the global health body of mismanagement of the pandemic and for being China-centric.
Trump has also ordered a halt to US funding of the WHO. The moves are widely viewed as an attempted deflection by the US government from its own poor handling of the pandemic at home.
This week the US has been at the center of some surprising news in the global search for vaccines for COVID-19.
French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi has upset its own government by saying the US would be first in line to receive any COVID-19 vaccine it developed. CEO Paul Hudson told Bloomberg News that Washington would get priority because it had been first to fund Sanofi's vaccine research.
But on Thursday France's Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that "equal access for everyone to the vaccine is not negotiable".
"I just reminded Serge Weinberg who chairs Sanofi, this large, deeply French company. He gave me all necessary assurances regarding the distribution in France of a possible Sanofi vaccine," he said.
In mid-March, German biotech firm CureVac was also at the center of a storm when German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that a Trump administration official had offered large sums of money for rights to its vaccine, "but only for the USA".
After the news, the European Commission offered up to €80 million ($87 million) of financial support to CureVac to scale up development and production of a coronavirus vaccine in Europe.
CureVac later denied reports that the Trump administration had made moves to acquire the firm or its research.
The initiative put forward by Costa Rica on Friday aims to set up a health technology repository for vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and any other tool that may work against COVID-19.
Tedros said that the WHO has accepted this visionary proposal, and will in the coming weeks launch a platform for open, collaborative sharing of knowledge, data and intellectual property on existing and new health tools to combat COVID-19.
President Alvarado described the initiative as "a call for solidarity and a call to action".
Mariangela Simao, the WHO's assistant director-general for access to medicine and health products, said on Friday that the new initiative is "complementary" to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator initiative, launched late last month to speed up the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, drugs and vaccines.
Tedros said that researchers are working at breakneck speed both to understand the virus and also to develop potential vaccines, medicines and other technologies.
He emphasized all the world will not end the COVID-19 pandemic if "we cannot ensure equitable access to them".
"Until everyone is protected, the world will remain at risk," he said.
(Source: China Daily)