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WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Member States briefing on COVID-19 - 7 January 2021


Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and welcome to our first Member State briefing of 2021. 

The expression “Happy New Year” has never had such significance. For millions of people, 2020 was not a happy year; it was a year of uncertainty, fear and grief.

The next year will not be without challenge, but there are also reasons to hope that 2021 will bring more certainty, comfort and relief.

So I would like to say Happy New Year, and to those whose Christmas is today, Merry Christmas. 

Vaccines are giving us real hope of bringing the pandemic under control in the next 12 months.

One year on since WHO issued its first Disease Outbreak News (DON) about this virus, 42 countries have started vaccinating their high-risk populations with various COVID-19 vaccines.

Of the 42, 36 are high-income and six are upper middle-income countries.

This is clearly a problem and this problem is getting worse because some countries are pursuing new deals outside of COVAX offering higher prices.

This compromises our collective commitment to equitable access.  

We have to take action to address this.

190 countries and economies committed to the COVAX Facility and we expect all stakeholders to ensure vaccines are distributed as swiftly and equitably as possible to all countries

We have a collective responsibility to make this a reality. 

History will not judge us kindly if we fail the low- and middle-income countries in their hour of need and sharing is in the best interest of each and every country. 

We can only recover faster as a global community by sharing.

Over the festive period, I commend staff for working with the European Commission and multiple Member States to implement the new COVAX Facility Dose-Sharing principles with the goal of having the first donations by the end of January or early-February at the latest. 

We have also rapidly evaluated the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which as you know led to us issuing our first COVID-19 Emergency Use Listing for a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Furthermore, we quickly evaluated and issued Emergency Use Listing for two auto destruct syringes to ensure countries have the best possible tools to safely rollout any COVAX vaccine. 

This week, we convened WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization to discuss policy recommendations for the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Consistent with WHO’s previous advice, SAGE has recommended that health workers be prioritized for vaccination, followed by older people.

This is the fastest way to stabilize health systems, restore essential health services and stimulate a truly global economic recovery. 

The hundred-hundred initiative driven by WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank is supporting over 100 countries to conduct rapid readiness assessments and develop country-specific plans for vaccines and other COVID-19 tools. 

So far more than 90 countries have already completed the assessments and our teams are working around the clock to ensure that governments and health systems are ready for global vaccine rollout. 

Furthermore, we issued a call for nominations to rapidly establish the Independent Allocation of Vaccine Group for the COVAX Facility. I especially want to highlight this to you and ask for Member State nominations as soon as possible.

Also, we advanced and mapped our accelerated regulatory reviews with all key producers during this festive period. 

I challenge each and every one of us to do everything possible to reduce cases as quickly as possible while simultaneously increasing production and rollout of vaccines.


Just as we look forward to ending the pandemic, we are also continuing to look back to understand its origins.

As you know, this week members of the international scientific team on the origins of the COVID-19 virus began traveling to China, as agreed.

On Tuesday we learned that Chinese officials had not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China.

We are working with Chinese colleagues to ensure the international mission is able to proceed without further delay. 


Our work goes far beyond the pandemic and we have also been accelerating our work to ensure we meet the targets set in the General Programme of Work 13. 

Significant progress has been made in the last few months and we look forward to the Executive Board, which will make key decisions on how best to scale up efforts. 

On pillar one, we are extremely grateful to Member States for all the advocacy and action on Patient Safety around Patient Safety Day and the adoption of the Action Plan, which will help us move to the next stage. 

On polio transition, progress has been made at the political and governance level.

Now we have to ensure closer alignment between polio eradication and transition, as well as drive a plan of action in individual countries to maintain essential public health functions.

This will mean utilizing the excellent polio assets developed by the polio programme, as well as reviewing the domestic financing available and identify any external funding needs.

This is a high priority issue and we look forward to Member States support on this.

I was pleased to see the Polio Oversight Board statement, which committed the polio programme to supporting COVID-19 vaccine introduction and delivery through existing assets, infrastructure and expertise, while also ensuring that we consign polio to the history books.

Furthermorethe social determinants of health is an important item of pillar three and we want to get guidance at the Executive Board on how to scale it up by Member States.


I thank you.

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