‘Catastrophic moral failure’: Stop TB Partnership joins WHO Director-General’s warning on COVID-19 vaccines
Lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines for people in the world’s poorest countries echoes the health inequity faced by people affected by TB.
28 January 2021, Geneva, Switzerland - “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.” This stark warning, delivered by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in his opening statement to the 148th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board, was repeated at a media briefing this week, when he warned that vaccine nationalism will also result in economic failure. One study, commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation, finds that vaccine nationalism could cost the global economy up to US$ 9.2 trillion, and almost half of that – US$ 4.5 trillion – would be incurred in the wealthiest economies.
The Stop TB Partnership (STBP) express deep concern that inequitable distribution of vaccines against COVID-19 to date is leaving people in the world’s poorest countries behind. STBP urges all governments and stakeholders to commit to facilitating equitable access and distribution of vaccines through COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccine Access), with prioritization of those who are most vulnerable and at risk.
It is extremely worrying that during, high-level events and meetings, stakeholders make the right commitments on access, equity, and “leave no one behind” but, unfortunately, none of these are further translated into reality. Statements are rarely followed with concrete attention, funding, products, and actions, meaning that the most vulnerable nations and people are the last ones in line to receive the supports and resources they need.
"It is very disturbing and scary to see how the world acts, but sadly it is nothing new. We in Stop TB, as well as our partners working in TB response, have always had to fight against social inequities," said Dr. Lucica Ditiu, STBP Executive Director.
"TB affects the most vulnerable groups in low- and middle-income countries, who are least able to access the latest diagnostics, prophylaxis, and treatments due to cost barriers. This is why we stand and support the WHO Director-General’s call for high-income countries to keep their promises and ensure the rapid and equitable rollout of vaccines," Dr. Ditiu continued.
"Moreover, as Dr. Tedros has said, countries should be fully transparent about their bilateral contracts and manufacturers should submit full dossiers to WHO to accelerate approvals and prioritize supply to COVAX."
STBP strongly believes that the principle of equitable access to safe, effective, and affordable vaccines should be further applied to new vaccines in the research and development pipeline for other infectious diseases, including TB. In spite of TB being one of the world’s biggest infectious disease killers, with 4,000 people killed every day, only one vaccine for TB is in use, the 100-year-old Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG). The BCG provides moderate protection against severe forms of TB in infants, but it does not protect adolescents or adults, who are most affected by TB transmission.
Therefore, we must apply learnings from the experience of the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines; funding for TB vaccines could be frontloaded, and new science and research techniques can be applied to develop a novel TB vaccine within months, instead of the usual timeline of more than a decade.
Unfortunately, and outrageously, funding for a safe, more effective TB vaccine almost stopped in 2020, slowing the pace of scientific progress against TB. A recent report by Treatment Action Group (TAG) and STBP found that a mere US$ 900 million was spent on TB research and development in 2019, falling more than halfway short of the UN target of US$ 2 billion per year. Of that, just US$ 117 million was spent on vaccine research and development. This threatens efforts to fulfil the targets and commitments in the UN Political Declaration on TB, which was agreed by all UN Member States with a deadline of 2022.
For all those who want to learn more about TB vaccine development, join the TB vaccine research community for a Virtual Global Forum on TB Vaccines from 20-22 April 2021. This special edition of the Global Forum will focus on the theme of Advancing TB vaccines in the time of COVID-19. Register here.
Source: Stop TB Partnership