The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said the chance for equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is at “serious risk”, urging manufacturers and countries to spread doses more fairly across the globe.
Ghebreyesus, at the opening of the body's annual Executive Board meeting, said the world is on the brink of “catastrophic moral failure” — noting that more than 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in 49 higher-income countries, whereas across all low-income countries, just one country — Guinea — has reportedly managed to provide doses for 25 people.
Despite the fact that 44 bilateral deals were signed last year and at least 12 have already been signed this year, the WHO chief noted that this “me first” approach by richer countries has left the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk.
The COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme — a global collaboration co-led by the WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), to help poorer countries gain equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines — aims to start distributing vaccines in February.
"This [vaccine nationalism] could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption," said Dr. Tedros, according to Reuters.
"Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic," he added, urging countries to avoid making similar mistakes to those made during the H1N1 and HIV pandemics.
The global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines has intensified since new variants of the coronavirus that can spread faster have emerged in multiple countries across the world.
Canada, for example, has pre-purchased enough vaccines to inoculate its population five times over and has already administered more than 570,000 doses. On the other hand, among low-income countries globally, only Guinea has been able to deliver any vaccines so far — administering doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine to 25 people last week, including its president.
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