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Ethical dimension of COVID-19 vaccine rollouts needs to be addressed: MSF chief

Published: Updated:

So long as richer countries and pharmaceutical companies proceed with a ‘business as usual’ approach, the threat of COVID-19 still looms, said Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International President Dr. Christos Christo, deeming vaccinations indefensible if a global solution is not devised.

While countries like Bahrain, Israel, the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates are quickly vaccinating their populations, many countries are still lagging.

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In an interview with Al Hadath, the sister channel of Al Arabiya News, Christo said that there is an urgent need for more vaccinations to take place in Southern Africa.

Those countries are struggling to keep their frontline workers and high-risk residents safe which is inherently overwhelming healthcare systems.

“The pandemic is a global problem that requires a global solution,” said Christo. “No one can really be safe from this virus unless everyone is safe and the vaccines, as well as other diagnostics and medicines, are distributed equally all over the world.”

The chaotic early rollout of vaccines by richer nations has only emphasized the inequality of the entire situation at hand, according to Christo.
This raised some ethical concerns; the chief of the World Health Organization even deemed the vaccine rollouts by these nations to be a “catastrophic” moral failure.

The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines are administered to healthcare professionals, in Indianapolis. (Reuters)
The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines are administered to healthcare professionals, in Indianapolis. (Reuters)

Christo echoed this sentiment and explained further.

“High risk people, in all countries, need to be vaccinated first. We have to protect the healthcare and frontline workers immediately so that they can keep taking care of their patients. Then, we need to protect the most vulnerable people on every corner of the planet,” he said.

“We are worried that without such universal, affordable and equitable access to medical tools will caused the pandemic to last longer and not only impact people who contract the coronavirus, but also the capacity of health systems to provide immunization, care and treatment for other diseases that, if not given adequate attention, will add to the general death toll and suffering.”

He also urged that vaccines and medicines should be treated as a public common good due to the severity of the outbreak.

“At this moment in the pandemic, in this state of emergency, unfortunately, it is not being treated as such,” he said.

Pharmaceutical companies need to now, more than ever, be transparent with their data, technologies and their know-how and should disclose their bilateral agreements with countries in order to accelerate research and development in this space to come up with newer and better tools to battle the pandemic, Christo said.

“They cannot run their business as usual,” he added. “We need to scale up and scale out all the manufacturing capacity that we have. We need to be faster and more effective.”

Read more:

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