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WHO chief calls on governments to reject 'vaccine nationalism' and share plans globally

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, director general of the World Health Organization, warned against making political decisions in combatting coronavirus.
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The World Health Organization warned governments against "vaccine nationalism" on Thursday and urged leaders to make plans now on how to share life-saving inoculations against coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the threat of COVID-19 can only be snuffed out with global coordination — especially when a vaccine is developed.

"There should be a global consensus to make a vaccine, any product, a global public product," Ghebreyesus told "NBC Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt during a panel discussion organized by the Aspen Security Forum.

"And this is a political choice, a political commitment. And we want political leaders to decide on this. Vaccine nationalism is not good. It will not help us."

Any nation's economy cannot reemerge from this pandemic without defeating the virus across the world, according to Ghebreyesus, who appeared with his top deputies, Drs. Mike Ryan and Maria DeJoseph Van Kerkhove, via Zoom.

"It's not sharing for the sake of sharing. It's only because it has advantages," the world health official said.

"Sharing vaccines or sharing other tools actually helps the world to recover together, and the economic recovery can be faster and the damage from COVID-19 can be lessened. So when those countries who have the means, who have the funding commit to this, they're not giving charity to others, they're doing it for themselves."

Back in March, in the early stages of the pandemic, the Trump administration reportedly attempted to lure a German company seeking a coronavirus vaccine to move its research to America. This prompted German politicians to insist no country should have a monopoly on any future vaccine.

More than 18.8 million people across the world have tested positive and more than 708,000 have died in the pandemic, according to a running count by NBC News and the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center on Thursday.

The United States has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, with total infections topping 4.8 million and deaths approaching 160,000 — with no relief in immediate sight.

Earlier this week, Ghebreyesus said there is no "silver bullet" to immediately cure or inoculate the world. He clarified those comments on Thursday, saying he simply wants people to make the most of best practices now.

"Physical distancing, hand hygiene, wearing a mask and so on," Ghebreyesus said. "If we can use all these tools, we can suppress and control this pandemic, many countries have shown. So my message was, let's do what we can do today to save lives."

Dr. Ryan, WHO 's executive director, echoed Ghebreyesus in urging people to act responsibly and not simply to hope for vaccines to save the day.

Six possible vaccines are now in Phase 3 trials: Three in China and one each by AstraZeneca at the University of Oxford, Moderna and Pfizer.

"Just word of caution, Phase 3 doesn't mean 'nearly there,' " Ryan said. "It's the beginning. Up to now, all of the studies have been around safety ... and ensuring that the vaccine generates an immune response in a small number of humans."