— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 6, 2022
“The dawn of a new year offers an opportunity to renew our collective response to a shared threat,” he said, speaking from Geneva.
“I hope global leaders who have shown such resolve in protecting their own populations will extend that resolve, to make sure that the whole world is safe and protected.”
WHO is set to publish its latest weekly epidemiological report on COVID-19 on Thursday.
It shows that case numbers increased at a global level by 71 per cent over the past seven days, according to Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s technical lead on COVID-19, speaking later in the briefing.
During this period, some 9.5 million cases were reported, “and we know that that is an underestimate,” she said, adding that “next week will be higher, because in the last 24 hours, more than 2.2 million cases were reported.”
Tedros described vaccine inequity as “a killer of people and jobs”, which is also undermining global economic recovery. Low vaccination rates have also created the perfect conditions for virus variants to emerge.
He said the “tsunami” of Omicron cases has been overwhelming health systems across the world.
“While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as ‘mild’,” he cautioned.
Although first-generation vaccines may not stop all COVID-19 infections and transmission, Tedros stressed that they remain highly effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths.
WHO has been advocating for countries to vaccinate 70 per cent of their populations by the middle of 2022. Tedros warned that at the current pace, some 109 countries could miss this target.
“The essence of the disparity is that some countries are moving toward vaccinating citizens a fourth time, while others haven’t even had enough regular supply to vaccinate their health workers and those at most risk,” he said.
“Booster after booster in a small number of countries will not end a pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected.”
The world can end vaccine inequity firstly by effectively sharing the doses that are being produced, he said.
“Second, let’s take a ‘never again’ approach to pandemic preparedness and vaccine manufacturing so that as soon as the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines become available, they are produced equitably and countries don’t have to beg for scarce resources,” he advised.
For its part, WHO will continue to invest in vaccine manufacturing hubs and work with any and all manufacturers willing to share know-how, technology and licenses.
Tedros was encouraged by some of the vaccines currently undergoing trial whose makers have already committed to waiving patents and sharing licenses, technology and know-how.
He also appealed for investment in public health and health systems, including to ensure strong surveillance and adequate testing, and workers who are supported and protected.
The WHO chief further called on people across the world to demand that governments and pharmaceutical companies share health tools globally to bring an end to the pandemic.