April 18, 2021

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 19 March 2021

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  • After six weeks of declining cases in January and February, we are now on track for a fourth consecutive week of increasing cases. These are worrying trends as we continue to see the impact of variants, opening up of societies, and inequitable vaccine rollout. 
  • WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety met this week to review the data on blood clots and low platelets among some people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The committee has recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks, with tremendous potential for preventing infections and deaths from COVID-19. 
  • While I’m pleased that almost 150 countries have now started vaccinating, we still face serious barriers in ramping up production and distribution. Vaccine equity is particularly important in cities, especially where people live in crowded conditions and the risks of transmission are high. 
  • This Sunday marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Like vaccine equity, racial equity must be an essential part of our shared recovery from COVID-19. 

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. 

After six weeks of declining cases in January and February, we are now on track for a fourth consecutive week of increasing cases.

For the moment, the number of deaths is still declining, but at a slower rate.

Cases are increasing in most regions. These are worrying trends as we continue to see the impact of variants, opening up of societies, and inequitable vaccine rollout.

As you know, WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety met this week to review the data on blood clots and low platelets among some people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The committee has concluded that the available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions following administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

As a result, the committee has recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks, with tremendous potential for preventing infections and deaths from COVID-19. 

The committee’s full statement is available on the WHO website and has been sent to media. 

We understand that people may have had concerns about the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. 

The question with any pharmaceutical or vaccine is whether the risk of taking it is greater or less than the risk of the disease it is meant to prevent or treat.

In this case, there is no question. COVID-19 is a deadly disease and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can prevent it.

It’s also important to remember that COVID-19 itself can cause blood clots and low platelets.

We urge countries to continue using this important vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is especially important because it accounts for more than 90% of the vaccines being distributed through COVAX.

While I’m pleased that almost 150 countries have now started vaccinating, we still face serious barriers in ramping up production and distribution.

This afternoon I spoke to leaders from eastern Caribbean states. Although most of their countries have succeeded in preventing large numbers of infections and deaths, their economies, which rely heavily on tourism, have been decimated. 

They had a clear message: we need vaccines, and we need them now.

Next week, I am planning to speak with my sister Dr Ngozi, Director-General of the World Trade Organization, to discuss how we can overcome the barriers we face to boost production. 

Vaccine equity is particularly important in cities, especially where people live in crowded conditions and the risks of transmission are high.

Cities are places where health can either be nourished or destroyed.

Yesterday, I had the honour of addressing the C40 network, which connects 97 of the world’s biggest cities, representing more than 700 million people.

Although its main focus is climate change and air pollution, the C40 cities recognize that vaccine equity is essential for controlling the pandemic and driving a healthy and green recovery.

I would especially like to thank the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, for signing WHO’s declaration on vaccine equity in his capacity as chair of the C40 network.

In response to COVID-19, the WHO Healthy Cities Network has enabled cities to share experiences and lessons learned, and to support the implementation of regional and national response plans and the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

WHO is also part of the Bloomberg Partnership for Healthy Cities, which is offering cities support for vaccine preparedness and distribution. 

Today we’re honoured to be joined by the Mayors of three major cities.

First, it’s my honour to welcome His Excellency Mohammed Adjei Sowah, the Mayor of Accra in Ghana, and the Vice-Chair of the C40 network.

Your Excellency, thank you so much for joining us. You have the floor.

[H.E. MOHAMMED ADJEI SOWAH ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much, Your Excellency, and thank you for the support of the C40 network for vaccine equity. 

Now it’s my honour to welcome Her Excellency Claudia Lopez, the Mayor of Bogota in Colombia.

Buenos días, Your Excellency, thank you for joining us. You have the floor.

[H.E. CLAUDIA LOPEZ ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Muchas gracias, Your Excellency, and thank you once again for using your voice to call for vaccine equity.

And last but not least, it’s my honour to welcome Her Excellency Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the Mayor of Freetown in Sierra Leone.

Your Excellency, welcome and thank you for joining us. You have the floor.

[H.E. YVONNE AKI-SAWYERR ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much, Your Excellency, for your leadership. And thank you to all three mayors for giving us your time today.

Finally, this Sunday marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

2020 will not only be remembered for the pandemic, it will also be remembered as the year when issues around racial injustice were brutally exposed. 

Like vaccine equity, racial equity must be an essential part of our shared recovery from COVID-19.

Christian, back to you.

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