The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the world faces a “catastrophic moral failure” because of unequal COVID-19 vaccine policies.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the remark while speaking on Monday at a WHO executive board session, “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.”
With the global death toll now past two million, many governments are betting on mass vaccination to throttle the pandemic, while tightening lockdown measures at the same time.
He said over 39 million vaccine doses had been given in 49 richer states – but one poor nation had only 25 doses, stating that it was unfair for younger, healthy people in richer nations to get injections before vulnerable people in poorer countries.
So far, China, India, Russia, the UK and the US have all developed Covid vaccines, with others being made by multinational teams – like the American-German Pfizer vaccine.
Almost all of these nations have prioritised distribution to their own populations. A “me-first” approach according to the WHO boss would be self-defeating because it would push up prices and encourage hoarding.
On this premise, he warned rich countries against hogging COVID-19 vaccine doses while the poorest of the world suffer.
Rather than the individual effort of countries as heightened on Monday with nationwide rollouts from Brazil and vaccination ramping up in Russia, India, Britain, France et cetera, the WHO head instead has called for a full commitment to the global vaccine-sharing scheme Covax, which is due to start rolling out next month.
He berated the subsisting approach of tackling the pandemic saying,”Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.
“My challenge to all member states is to ensure that by the time World Health Day arrives on 7 April, 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,” Dr Tedros said.
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 disclosed.
Reacting to 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.”