WHO chief warns that the world will face a “catastrophic moral failure” if the rich continue to buy out COVID-19 vaccines.
World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has slammed the world’s richest countries, warning that a “me-first” attitude will only perpetuate medical suffering in poorer nations.
In an executive board meeting held in Geneva this week, Tedros said that the greedy mentality of wealthier nations has put equal access to the Covid vaccine “at serious risk.” He also noted that vaccine manufacturers are chasing deals for profit, instead of seeking WHO approval for global vaccination distribution.
On a global scale, Tedros stated that 39 million shots of the vaccine have been administered in 49 of the world’s richest countries. According to the WHO director-general, statistics show that “just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25,000; just 25.”
This is a chilling reality, considering that poorer nations are impacted disproportionately by the virus. “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,” Tedros added.
Although some wealthy countries are pledging equitable access to the vaccine, results have shown that they have scrambled to secure preemptive deals, driving up prices and ultimately locking poorer countries out.
Last year, 44 deals were made in this way, 12 have already been signed for this year.
Even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.
Latest statistic show that richer countries benefit from vaccine supplies while poorer countries are being left behind. https://t.co/gfu65T3JBA
— UNESCO (@UNESCO) January 19, 2021
“Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating,” he told the meeting. “Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, prolong our pain, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.”
However, COVID medical inequity doesn’t just end at the vaccine, as Professor of Infectious Diseases at ANU Sanjaya Senanayake told the ABC. Access to treatment and medical equipment is also hindered in lower-income countries. He said that Australia, a country with some of the lowest virus numbers in the world, managed to acquire 8000 ventilators, while South Sudan, with a population of over 10 million, has only four.
This map speaks volumes on the unequal distribution of vaccines globally. And Canada just rejected immediate vaccine donation requests from WHO despite reserving enough vaccinations for the population x4. https://t.co/KnEhgk6AKP
— Hannah Matthews (@hannahelisema) January 12, 2021
In his speech, Tedros mentioned that Canada had secured enough shots to vaccinate their country “five times over,” but had pledged to donate their excess vaccinations to “struggling” nations.
“Many other countries, including Australia, will be in that position so that hopefully will happen,” he said. “It is important that those pledges have been made … and advocates for other countries like the WHO to continually remind other governments that this is an issue.”
“The global community will not function if only some countries have got good vaccine coverage.”
60% of Australia’s population will reportedly need to be vaccinated in order to secure immunity, however, WHO stress that we “need to [achieve] that at a global level, so securing it in Australia alone, or the US or UK alone, isn’t enough.”
— S (@mypandashallfly) January 18, 2021
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine currently approved by the WHO, but Tedros called on other manufacturers to submit their data for review.
Covax, the WHO’s global vaccine distribution and procurement initiative, made arrangements with five manufacturers securing two billion vaccine doses for the world. The initiative aims to vaccinate 20% of each participating country, with 92 lower-income countries covered by the funding.
“We aim to start deliveries in February,” said Tedros. As the Coronavirus is rapidly mutating with new variant strains, he said efficient and equal vaccine rollouts are imperative.
“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need — literally and figuratively. There will be enough vaccine for everyone. But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”