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World must not overlook COVID vaccines for poorer nations: sponsor

Poorer countries risk being overlooked during the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines, a top official with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) warned.

"I'm very worried," Frederik Kristensen, the deputy head of Oslo-based CEPI told AFP.

"If we have pictures going around the world now of how everybody in the wealthy part of the world are getting vaccines and nothing is happening in the (developing) part of the world, that is a big, big, big problem".

Kristensen was speaking as major nations such as Britain, France, and the United States geared up for vaccination programmes in their countries.

CEPI is a partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations launched in 2017 to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics in a way that is equitable.

It committed $1.1 billion to finance the development of nine candidate coronavirus vaccines, including those of the US firm Moderna and the British company AstraZeneca.

Back to normal in 2022

Nearly two billion vaccine doses have been promised through "Covax", an international alliance led by the World Health Organization which is negotiating with laboratories for equitable access for the vaccine, Kristensen said.

But the figure is theoretical given the fact that vaccines still have to be approved and some may be rejected, he said.

As for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are at the most advanced stage, they use technology that requires storage at minus 70 degrees Celsius for the former and minus 20 degrees Celsius for the latter. 

So the question is how to distribute them in poorer hot countries, Kristensen asked.

"We've been to places where the last mile of the transportation happens on the back of a motorbike," he said.

He called for a new wave of vaccines available worldwide that ideally require just one dose and are effective over the long term.

"So the job is not done in any way," he said.

Kristensen said he understood how parts of the population might be reluctant to take a vaccine that was developed so quickly but believed such reluctance would be overcome in the end.

"People will get the confidence that this is the best way to protect themselves and their loved ones and others," he said.

He urged people to be patient about how long it will take for life to return to normal.

Even though many see "light at the end of the tunnel" with the vaccines, he said, it's not clear yet whether they will stop transmission of the disease.

There is also the problem of distributing the vaccine in the numbers required. 

But he said if vaccinations can be done effectively the world can return to normal in "2022, at least."

Topics: Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations , coronavirus disease , vaccines , Frederik Kristensen
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