The WHO has called on rich countries to reconsider their plans to vaccinate children against Covid-19 and instead donate doses to poorer nations, while warning that the second year of the pandemic looks more deadly.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebreesus expressed outrage that a number of rich countries are now vaccinating children and teenagers, while poorer countries have only just begun to vaccinate health workers and their most vulnerable groups.
“In January, I spoke about the potential unfolding of a moral catastrophe,” he told a news conference. “Unfortunately, we are now witnessing this game. In a handful of rich countries that have bought most of the supply, lower-risk groups are now being vaccinated.
“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but at the moment I urge them to reconsider and donate vaccines to Covax instead.
“Because in low- and lower-middle-income countries, the supply of Covid-19 vaccines is not enough even to immunize health workers, and hospitals are overwhelmed with people in urgent need of rescue care.”
The WHO hopes more countries will follow France and Sweden in donating photos of Covax after inoculating their priority populations to help bridge the gap in vaccination rates.
Canada and the United States are among the countries that have allowed vaccines for use in adolescents in recent weeks. However, a WHO spokesman said talks with Washington on dose-sharing were under way.
Nearly 1.4 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been injected in at least 210 territories around the world, according to the AFP census. About 44% of them were administered in high-income countries, representing 16% of the world’s population.
Only 0.3% are administered in the 29 lowest-income countries, where 9% of the world’s population lives.
Ahead of this inequality in access, Tedros warned that this year the world is likely to see more deaths than last year, despite the arrival of vaccines. “We are on track for the second year of this pandemic to be much more deadly than the first,” he said. “Saving lives and livelihoods through a combination of public health and vaccination measures – neither is the only way out.”
The coronavirus has killed at least 3.3 million people since the outbreak in China in December 2019, according to official sources compiled by AFP.
Tedros, 56, said he was vaccinated against Covid-19 earlier this week in Geneva, the Swiss city where the WHO is based. “It was a bitter moment,” he said, explaining that his thoughts were on health workers around the world who were battling the pandemic. “The fact that so many people are not yet protected has a sad effect on the gross distortion of access to vaccines around the world.”