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Vaccine makers should license technology to overcome 'grotesque' inequity: WHO

GENEVA/ZURICH (Reuters) - More producers of COVID-19 vaccines should follow AstraZeneca’s lead and license technology to other manufacturers, the World Health Organization’s head said on Monday, as he described continuing vaccine inequity as “grotesque”.

FILE PHOTO: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) speaks during the opening of the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, January 18, 2021. Christopher Black/WHO/Handout

AstraZeneca’s shot, which new U.S. data on Monday showed was safe and effective despite some countries suspending inoculations over health concerns, is being produced in various locations including South Korea’s SKBioScience and the Serum Institute of India.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for more manufacturers to adopt this model to boost supplies, including for the COVAX vaccine sharing programme seeking to speed more shots to developing countries.

“The gap between number of vaccines administered in rich countries and the number administered through COVAX is growing and becoming more grotesque every day,” Tedros told a news conference.

“The inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage. It’s also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating.”

But the head of an industry group representing Big Pharma rejected Tedros’ criticism as showing “a lack of understanding for the complexity of vaccine manufacturing and the global supply chain”.

Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said in a statement that scaling up of vaccine production was on track thanks to partnerships among vaccine makers in the developing and developed world collaborating “in a manner never seen before”.

“Technology transfer and collaborations are taking place on a massive scale,” Cueni said, citing deals between AstraZeneca and Novavax with the Serum Institute in India, and between Johnson & Johnson with Aspen Pharma in South Africa and Biologic E in India.

Earlier, AstraZeneca released interim data showing its vaccine, developed with Oxford University, was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and posed no increased risk of blood clots.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan called it a “very good vaccine for all age groups”.

Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark have extended suspensions of AstraZeneca’s shot as investigations continue into rare blood clotting events.

Still, WHO officials said African countries getting the vaccine via COVAX are moving ahead.

“They did ask a lot of questions but the demand for the vaccine is extremely high,” said WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward.

Additional reporting by Emma Farge and Silke Koltrowitz; editing by Giles Elgood and Jason Neely

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