WHO Director-General’s opening remarks – 12 November 2021
Almost 2 million cases of COVID-19 were reported in Europe last week, the most in a single week in that region since the pandemic started.
Almost 27 thousand deaths were reported from Europe, more than half of all COVID-19 deaths globally last week.
COVID-19 is surging in countries with lower vaccination rates in Eastern Europe, but also in countries with some of the world’s highest vaccination rates in Western Europe.
It’s another reminder, as we have said again and again, that vaccines do not replace the need for other precautions.
Vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalisation, severe disease and death. But they do not fully prevent transmission.
Some European countries are now reintroducing restrictions to curb transmission and take the pressure off their health systems.
We continue to recommend the tailored and proportionate use of testing, masks, physical distancing, measures to prevent crowding, improve ventilation, and more. And get vaccinated when it’s your turn.
Every country must constantly assess its situation and adjust its approach accordingly.
With the right mix of measures, it’s possible for countries to find the balance between keeping transmission down and keeping their societies and economies open.
No country can simply vaccinate its way out of the pandemic.
It’s not vaccines or, it’s vaccines and.
And it’s not just about how many people are vaccinated, it’s about who is vaccinated.
It makes no sense to give boosters to healthy adults, or to vaccinate children, when health workers, older people and other high-risk groups around the world are still waiting for their first dose. The exception, as we have said, is immunocompromised individuals.
Countries with the highest vaccine coverage continue to stockpile more vaccines, while low-income countries continue to wait.
Every day, there are six times more boosters administered globally than primary doses in low-income countries.
This is a scandal that must stop now.
We have shown that COVAX works, if it has the vaccines.
COVAX has now shipped almost 500 million vaccines to 144 countries and territories.
All countries have started vaccinating except two: Eritrea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The vast majority of countries are ready to get doses into arms, but they need the doses.
To reach WHO’s target of vaccinating 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year, we need an additional 550 million doses – about 10 days’ production.
Earlier this week, I participated in a meeting of foreign ministers convened by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
I welcome the ministers’ commitment to achieving WHO’s vaccination targets, and to continue meeting to track progress, so that the targets are achieved.
With a concerted effort by countries and manufacturers, we can get there.
Vaccines alone will not end the pandemic, but we cannot end the pandemic unless we solve the global vaccine crisis.
And COVID-19 is not the only vaccine crisis we face.
A new report by WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 22 million infants missed their first dose of measles vaccine last year – 3 million more than in 2019, marking the largest increase in two decades.
24 measles vaccination campaigns in 23 countries were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving more than 93 million people at risk of one of the world’s most contagious pathogens.
The report shows that compared with 2019, reported measles cases decreased by more than 80 percent in 2020.
But this decrease is cause for concern, not celebration.
Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may have contributed to a reduction in transmission of measles.
But the decrease also reflects the fact that fewer specimens were sent for laboratory testing last year than any year in the past decade.
The drop in vaccination, combined with weak monitoring, testing and reporting, create the ideal conditions for explosive outbreaks of measles.
WHO and our partners are continuing to work with countries to resume vaccination campaigns, make up the ground we have lost and drive progress towards measles elimination.