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WHO's David Nabarro to TDs: 'This pandemic is nowhere near finished'

Nabarro said that Covid-19 is a “new virus” and that both the virus itself and society’s response will change.

David Nabarro, WHO special envoy on Covid-19.
David Nabarro, WHO special envoy on Covid-19.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

THE WORLD HEALTH Organization’s special envoy on Covid-19 has told the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee that the pandemic is “nowhere near the end”. 

David Nabarro was speaking at a meeting of the committee which was focused on discussing access to to vaccines for lower income countries. 

Nabarro said he wouldn’t say that wealthy countries are “hoarding” vaccines because there is currently a shortage, but that there are certainly putting “immense demands” on manufacturers to fulfil orders to them. 

He said that while infection rates may be currently decreasing in Europe this was not the global experience. 

“This pandemic is nowhere near finished. I want to repeat, this is nowhere near the end. And some people say, well there’s light at the end of the tunnel. But from my point of view, I’m not sure how far that light is away,” Nabarro told the Committee. 

He said that Covid-19 is a “new virus” and that both the virus itself and society’s response will change, “so the adaptation will be continuous”. 

Right now, we are in a phase where the incidence of new reported cases of Covid in Europe has gone into a decline, particularly since the beginning of January. This is super welcome news. But why is it gone into a decline? Because of an extraordinary effort by the people of Europe, and indeed increasingly by the people of North America, to take this virus really seriously. 

Speaking about access to vaccine’s worldwide, Nabarrro said that the WHO is clear in its view that the order of priority for vaccines should begin with “health workers, older people and people with concomitant illnesses, wherever they are.”

He said that vaccine access “should not on the basis of geographical location or nationality” and that “countries with spare vaccine should be giving that spare vaccine to COVAX immediately”.

COVAX is the WHO’s programme that seeks to ensure equitable access to vaccines.

The key question is, what is spare? The question that myself and other colleagues are asking us at the moment is, given the current availability of vaccines, should any country be planning to give vaccine or to vaccinate all of its adults against Covid? Or should they be doing a vaccination of the at-risk groups and then sharing the rest with Covax?

Nabarro was also asked by deputies about the potential use of Russian vaccines by western countries. 

Last week, primary findings published in The Lancet journal found that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could be 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19.

The Sputnik-V vaccine is developed by Russia’s state-run Gamaleya research institute and Nabarro said this morning that they have been “very cooperative” in providing data.

“WHO has had a number of exchanges with the manufacturers of the Russian vaccine, the Gamaleya company, and they are continuing to seek from the very cooperative Russian manufacturers, all the data that are needed for an emergency use authorisation,” he said. 

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Nabarro added that national governments are seeking certification of “good manufacturing practice”

“Of Gamaleya and Sputnik V, the correct answer is to say it is a work in progress, that’s obviously being done with the greatest possible speed, whilst at the same time maintaining the requirements for quality assurance, safety and efficacy.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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