Feb. 5, 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 5 February 2021 .

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Earlier this week, Captain Sir Tom Moore died with COVID-19.

As you know, as he approached his 100th birthday last year, Captain Sir Tom decided he would try to raise £1000 for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service by completing 100 laps of his garden. He ended up raising more than £30 million.

For me, Captain Sir Tom represents two things:

The first is that everyone can make a difference, whether that’s raising money, inspiring others, informing the public or simply deciding to stay at home to keep others safe.

The second is that Captain Sir Tom was a reminder of the value we should put on older people and everything they bring to our world.

However, there is a disturbing narrative in some countries that it’s okay if older people die.

It’s not okay. No one is dispensable. Every life is precious, regardless of age, gender, income, legal status, ethnicity or anything else.

And that’s why it’s so important that older people everywhere are prioritized for vaccination.

Those most at risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19, including health workers and older people, must come first – and they must come first everywhere.

Globally, the number of vaccinations has now overtaken the number of reported infections.

In one sense, that’s good news, and a remarkable achievement in such a short timeframe.

But more than three quarters of those vaccinations are in just 10 countries that account for almost 60% of global GDP.

Almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose.

Some countries have already vaccinated large proportions of their population who are at lower risk of severe disease or death.

All governments have an obligation to protect their own people.

But once countries with vaccines have vaccinated their own health workers and older people, the best way to protect the rest of their own population is to share vaccines so other countries can do the same.

That’s because the longer it takes to vaccinate those most at risk everywhere, the more opportunity we give the virus to mutate and evade vaccines.

In other words, unless we suppress the virus everywhere, we could end up back at square one.

On Wednesday, COVAX published its forecast for the distribution of vaccines to participating countries.

This is a very exciting moment. Countries are ready to go, but the vaccines aren’t there.

We need countries to share doses once they have finished vaccinating health workers and older people.

But we also need a massive scale-up in production. Last week, Sanofi announced it would make its manufacturing infrastructure available to support production of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. We call on other companies to follow this example.

Companies can also issue non-exclusive licenses to allow other producers to manufacture their vaccine – a mechanism that has been used before to expand access to treatments for HIV and hepatitis C.

The COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, enables the voluntary licensing of technologies in a non-exclusive and transparent way by providing a platform for developers to share knowledge, intellectual property and data.

This sharing of knowledge and data could enable immediate use of untapped production capacity and help build additional manufacturing bases, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Expanding production globally would also make poor countries less dependent on donations from rich ones.

These are unprecedented times and we applaud those manufacturers that have pledged, for example, to sell their vaccines at cost.

But manufacturers can do more: having received substantial public funding, we encourage all manufacturers to share their data and technology to ensure global equitable access to vaccines.

And we call on companies to share their dossiers with WHO faster and more fully than they have been doing, so we can review them for emergency use listing.


Last Friday, we heard from health workers in Uganda and Pakistan who are waiting to be vaccinated.

Today we’re pleased to be joined by two health workers from high-income countries who have been vaccinated.

First, I would like to introduce Professor Gabriel Gold who works in a geriatric department at the Trois-Chêne Hospital here in Geneva.

Professor Gold, thank you for joining us. Please share with us your experience during the pandemic and your hopes for your work and indeed the world now you’ve been vaccinated.


Merci beaucoup, Professor Gold, thank you so much and I welcome your support to accelerate vaccine rollout globally.

Now to our second guest, Cindy Frias. Cindy Frias is a Mental Health Specialist Nurse at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona.

Cindy, we look forward to hearing about your experience working on mental health during the pandemic and what it’s been like for you to be vaccinated.


Thank you, Cindy. Muchas gracias. We know many people have felt isolated during the pandemic and the work you do, as a mental health nurse specialist, is so critical.

Thank you once again to both our guests today. We are glad both of you have been vaccinated and are able to keep doing your essential work. And thank you to both of you for the clear call you have issued for health workers everywhere to be vaccinated.

Fadela, back to you.

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