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WHO urges global power players to end ‘disgraceful’ vaccine inequity

Top health body official says world should be ‘disgusted,’ asks whether situation could be worse had there been an active effort to block the planet’s poor from getting vaccinated

People wait in line to receive a dose of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine, at Tej Bahadur Sapru hospital in Allahabad, on May 1, 2021, during the first day of India's vaccination drive to all adults. (Sanjay Kanoija/AFP)
People wait in line to receive a dose of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine, at Tej Bahadur Sapru hospital in Allahabad, on May 1, 2021, during the first day of India's vaccination drive to all adults. (Sanjay Kanoija/AFP)

GENEVA, Switzerland — The World Health Organization on Tuesday urged the 20 leaders with the power to overturn the “disgraceful” global imbalance in access to COVID-19 vaccines to reverse the tide before October.

The WHO’s Bruce Aylward said the world should be “disgusted” — and asked whether the situation could have been any worse had there been an active effort to block the planet’s poor from getting vaccinated.

The United Nations health agency has been increasingly infuriated by what it sees as the moral outrage of rich countries hogging vaccine supply while developing nations struggle to immunize their most vulnerable populations.

Aylward, the WHO’s frontman on accessing the tools to fight the coronavirus pandemic, urged people to tell politicians and business tycoons that it was electorally and financially safe to increase vaccine coverage in poorer nations.

“There’s probably 20 people in the world that are crucial to solving this equity problem,” he told a WHO social media live interaction.

“They head the big companies that are in charge of this, they head the countries that are contracting most of the world’s vaccines, and they head the countries that produce them.

“We need those 20 people to say, ‘we’re going to solve this problem by the end of September. We’re going to make sure that 10 percent of every country… is vaccinated,'” Aylward said.

Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general of the World Health Organization, speaks during a press conference in Beijing, on February 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

Nearly 4.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered around the world, according to an AFP count.

In high-income countries, as categorized by the World Bank, 104 doses have been injected per 100 people.

In the 29 lowest-income nations, just two doses have been administered per 100 people.

“We should be collectively disgusted with ourselves,” said Aylward.

“I can’t help but think, if we had tried to withhold vaccines from parts of the world, could we have made it any worse than it is today?” he charged.

Booster shots evidence gap

The WHO wants every country to have vaccinated at least 10% of its population by the end of September; at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of 2022.

Last week, the WHO called for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution — though several wealthy countries are going ahead regardless.

The WHO says there is no convincing picture as to whether boosters are actually necessary, given the level of protection offered by the WHO-authorized vaccines.

“There’s no scientific evidence yet that we need to have a third dose,” said Mariangela Simao, the WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines, vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

Israelis aged 60+ receive their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Tel Aviv, on August 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On the topic of vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers, Simao said it was “mostly a high-income country problem.”

“If you have access to a vaccine and you’re a healthcare worker and you’re not taking it, there’s something very wrong with your information or the system you’re working with,” she said.

Israel, Russia and Hungary have already started providing third booster doses to wide swaths of their populations, while Germany and France have announced they will do so starting September 1. Other nations, including the United States and Britain, are considering plans to do so in the wake of the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Israel began administering COVID vaccine booster doses to the immunosuppressed last month, and rolled them out to all Israelis over age 60 last week.

As of Tuesday evening, 5,819,152 people out of Israel’s population of 9.3 million have received at least one vaccine dose, while 5,401,750 have received at least two, and 619,538 have received a third.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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