World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that the world faces a “catastrophic moral failure” because of unequal COVID vaccine policies.
Speaking at an executive board session on Monday, Dr. Tedros said, “It’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”
“We must work together as one global family to prioritize those most at risk of severe diseases and death, in all countries,” he added.
He also said that while “more than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country”.
“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” Dr. Tedros said during the session.
Dr. Tedros said a “me-first” approach would be self-defeating because it would push up prices and encourage hoarding.
“Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering,” he added.
And the WHO head called for a full commitment to the global vaccine-sharing scheme Covax, which is due to start rolling out next month.
“My challenge to all member states is to ensure that by the time World Health Day arrives on April 07, COVID-19 vaccines are being administered in every country, as a symbol of hope for overcoming both the pandemic and the inequalities that lie at the root of so many global health challenges”.
So far, more than 180 countries have signed up to the Covax initiative, which is supported by the WHO and a group of international vaccine advocacy groups. Its aim is to unite countries into one bloc so they have more power to negotiate with drug companies.
Ninety-two countries – all of them low or middle-income – will have their vaccines paid for by a fund sponsored by donors.
“We have secured two billion doses from five producers, with options of more than one billion more doses, and we aim to start deliveries in February,” Dr. Tedros said.
Reacting to Dr. Tedros’ warning, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The UK is the world’s biggest supporter, financial supporter, of the global programme to ensure access to vaccines in all countries in the world.”
Mr. Hancock said the UK had “put the most financial support in these international efforts to ensure everybody has access to vaccines”.
The UK government has provided £548m (US$734m) to the Covax programme.
Last month, the People’s Vaccine Alliance coalition of campaigning bodies said that rich countries were hoarding doses of COVID vaccines and people living in poor countries were set to miss out.
It said that nearly 70 lower-income countries would only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people.
Canada, in particular, came in for criticism, with the coalition saying the North American nation had ordered enough vaccine doses to protect each Canadian five times.
In December, Karina Gould, Canada’s minister of international development, denied allegations the country was hoarding vaccines, saying any discussion of a surplus was “hypothetical” as the doses had not been delivered.
She said Canada was providing C$485 million (US$380 million; £280 million) to help developing countries cope with COVID-19. (Source: BBC)