'Catastrophic moral failure' if Covid vaccines not distributed fairly, WHO warns

18 January 2021, 23:22

Dr Tedros Adhanom's warning comes amid a global vaccine rollout effort
Dr Tedros Adhanom's warning comes amid a global vaccine rollout effort. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The world is on the brink of a "catastrophic moral failure" if Covid-19 vaccines are not distributed fairly to low-income countries, the World Health Organisation has warned.

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for coronavirus vaccines to be delivered equitably across the globe to prevent deaths in the poorest countries.

The global health leader said that in one low-income nation only 25 people have received their jabs, whereas more than 39 million doses have been administered in almost 50 higher-income countries.

"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 told the WHO's executive board meeting.

In the UK, more than four million people have already been vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Dr Tedros added: "It's right that all governments want to prioritise vaccinating their own health workers and older people first.

"But it's not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.

"There will be enough vaccine for everyone. But, right now, we must work together as one global family to prioritise those most at risk of severe diseases and death, in all countries.

"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 thousand; just 25."

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The global health chief said that a "me first" approach to inoculations would not just prolong the pandemic, but also the human and economic suffering.

Covax, a global vaccine-sharing fund, is preparing to deliver its first shots in February.

"Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritise bilateral deals, going around Covax, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue," Dr Tedros continued.

"This is wrong. 44 bilateral deals were signed last year and at least 12 have already been signed this year.

"The situation is compounded by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritised regulatory approval in rich countries where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO."

Last week, the UK Government said Britain has helped in raising $1 billion for the coronavirus Covax advance market commitment through match-funding other donors.

Officials said that this, combined with Β£548 million of UK aid, will help distribute one billion Covid jabs to 92 developing countries this year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street press briefing on Monday: "The UK is the world's biggest financial supporter of the global programme to ensure access to vaccines in all countries in the world.

"Not only have we developed, in partnership with the scientists at Oxford and AstraZeneca, the most cost-effective vaccine that is available, we have also put the most financial support into these international efforts to ensure everyone has access to vaccine.

"I absolutely agree with Dr Tedros on the importance of a global rollout and we in the UK can be proud of what we are doing to support that happening financially.

"And I look forward to working with the WHO and others to try and make sure that we can get enough vaccine to be able to vaccinate the whole world's adult population for which vaccines are now approved."

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