WTO chief calls for diversification of vaccine production
The head of the World Trade Organization said on Thursday that it was of the utmost importance to diversify vaccine manufacturing and have more production in Africa and Latin America to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Director General of the WTO Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told European Union lawmakers that normal market forces for exports and imports cannot apply to the issue of life or death from COVID-19 vaccines, as many of the wealthiest countries people were stocking vaccines for their people when the crisis hit their home turf.
She said the world has the capacity to make around 5 billion doses of the vaccine in total, but as the virus has spread, “we need two and three times as much. So the capacity was not there.
One of the main challenges is the diversification of vaccine production, which is 80% concentrated in 10 countries in Europe, North America and South Asia, Okonjo-Iweala said. She called the situation a problem that “came home to roost”.
“It is not normal that Africa, with 1.3 billion inhabitants, has 0.17% of the world’s production capacity,” she said. “So that has to change.” She added that Latin America has about 2% of the world’s production capacity.
A world health summit set to begin in Rome on Friday is expected to bring together the Group of 20 industrial and emerging market countries, heads of international organizations and representatives of global health organizations. It will be co-organized by the executive arm of the European Union and Italy.
The European Union is set to raise many of the same points made by Okonjo-Iweala, specifically seeking to increase manufacturing output in Africa.
EU countries have criticized the US call to waive patents on the COVID-19 vaccine in order to increase supplies, arguing that the move would bring no short-term or intermediate improvements and may even have a negative effect.
Okonjo-Iweala has sought to remain neutral on the issue, but said WTO members could find flexibility to ensure more vaccines are produced in developing countries.