UN urges global Covid-19 vaccine plan, warns of dangerous inequity

UNITED NATIONS : The United Nations (UN) is leading calls for a coordinated global effort to vaccinate against Covid-19, warning that inequities in initial efforts put the whole planet at risk.

Foreign ministers met virtually on Wednesday for the first UN Security Council session on vaccinations.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced alarm that just 10 nations have administered 75 per cent of doses so far - and 130 countries have had none at all.

"The world urgently needs a global vaccination plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities," he said.

He said the Group of 20 major economies were in the best position to set up a task force on financing and implementation of global vaccinations and offered full support of the UN.

"If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South, it will mutate again and again. New variants could become more transmissible, more deadly and, potentially, threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics," Mr Guterres said.

Meanwhile, a study suggests that the South African variant may reduce antibody protection from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by two-thirds, and it is not clear if the shot will be effective against the mutation, the companies said on Wednesday.

The study found the vaccine was still able to neutralise the virus and there is not yet evidence from trials in people that the variant reduces vaccine protection, the companies said.

Still, they are making investments and talking to regulators about developing an updated version or a booster shot. The findings, by scientists from the companies and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

As there is no established benchmark yet to determine what level of antibodies are needed to protect against the virus, it is unclear whether the two-thirds reduction will render the vaccine ineffective.

UTMB professor and study co-author Pei-Yong Shi believes the vaccine will likely be protective against the variant.

"We don't know what the minimum neutralising number is. We don't have that cutoff line," he said, adding that he suspects the immune response observed is likely to be significantly above where it needs to be to provide protection. - AFP, REUTERS