Growing vaccine gap between rich and poor countries is ‘grotesque’: WHO

‘A moral outrage’: World Health Organization says wealthy states vaccinating younger people are costing lives in low-income nations

Vaccinations in Logrono, northern Spain, March 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
Vaccinations in Logrono, northern Spain, March 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

AFP — The World Health Organization on Monday blasted the growing gap between the number of coronavirus vaccines administered in rich and poor countries, branding the inequity a global “moral outrage.”

The WHO tore into wealthy nations now vaccinating younger people at low risk of developing COVID-19 disease, bluntly saying they were costing vulnerable people’s lives in low-income countries.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was “shocking” how little had been done to avert an entirely predictable “catastrophic moral failure” to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide.

The gap was “growing every single day, and becoming more grotesque every day,” he told a press conference.

“Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries,” Tedros said.

“The inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage. It’s also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating. Some countries are racing to vaccinate their entire populations — while other countries have nothing,” he said.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press briefing on the coronavirus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 9, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/ AFP)

Tedros said rich countries were giving themselves a false sense of security.

The UN health agency chief said the more transmission of the virus, the more variants are likely to emerge — and the more of those that spring up, the more likely they are to evade vaccines.

More than 455 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been injected in 162 territories around the world, according to an AFP count.

Some 56 percent of the doses have been administered in high-income countries accounting for 16% of the global population.

Just 0.1 percent have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries, home to nine percent of the global population.

The COVAX global vaccine-sharing scheme ensures that 92 of the poorest economies in the world can access vaccine doses, with the cost covered by donors.

It has so far distributed more than 31 million doses to 57 countries.

The scheme is aiming to distribute enough doses to vaccinate up to 27% of the population in those 92 states by the end of the year.

A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arrives in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Feb. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/ Diomande Ble Blonde)

Tedros said countries were in a race against time to bring down transmission and wealthy nations needed to match their promises of solidarity with action on getting vaccines to poorer nations.

“Unless we end this pandemic as soon as possible, it can keep us hostage for more years to come,” he warned.

Asked about the rising number of cases in Europe, where some states are reimposing tighter restrictions, fearing a third wave of the pandemic, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said countries had missed an open goal.

He said nations were grasping at straws, thinking that simply administering lots of vaccine doses would be a “golden solution” to end the crisis.

“I’m sorry: it’s not,” Ryan said.

“The disease is on the march again in countries where we have an opening up, natural fatigue, low vaccination coverage, poor surveillance and control measures in place,” he said, calling the combination “a recipe for larger outbreaks.”

In this March 10, 2021, file photo, bartender Angie Gibson, center, waits on Monica Ponton, left, and Devona Williams, right, at Mo’s Irish Pub in Houston. Optimism is spreading in the U.S. as COVID-19 deaths plummet and states ease restrictions and open vaccinations to younger adults. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

“I’m afraid we are investing way too much in [vaccines] as the only solution to fix our problems,” he said.

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said Monday that trials showed its COVID-19 vaccine was 100% effective in preventing severe disease.

“These data are further evidence that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective,” said Tedros.

Several European countries last week suspended the vaccine due to isolated cases of blood clots in people who had received the jab.

After reviewing those cases, the WHO reconfirmed its backing for the vaccine on Friday.

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