Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), has warned that the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between rich and poor countries will prolong the pandemic.
He slammed wealthier countries for buying up and hoarding all the available vaccines.
“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. Not 25 million; not 25,000; just 25,” Tedros said at the opening of a week-long meeting of the WHO Executive Board on Monday.
The WHO chief blasted vaccine manufacturers for chasing regulatory approvals “where the profits are highest,” rather than seeking global approval with the WHO.
“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,” he added.
Last week, the global death toll from COIVID-19 surpassed 2 million, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The milestone came even as vaccines are being rolled out around the world in an all-out campaign to stop the pandemic.
A ‘self-defeating’ approach
Tedros hailed the COVID vaccine development in less than a year since the start of the pandemic a “stunning scientific achievement.” However, he warned that hopes of quickly ending the pandemic were fading.
The WHO chief dubbed the “me-first approach” self-defeating, saying the richer countries would themselves remain at risk if they ignored the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. These actions, he said, would ultimately prolong the pandemic and increase suffering.
Tedros said plans to start vaccine deliveries in February to many of the world’s poorer countries were now at risk.
A global initiative, COVAX, was formed at the start of the pandemic aiming to ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for every country. The organization has managed to secure 2 billion doses from five producers, with options to receive more than a billion more doses.