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WHO chief says 'me-first' attitude to vaccines among high income countries will prolong pandemic

39 million doses have been administered in 49 higher income countries, while just 25 doses have been given in one low income country.

Image: PA

THE HEAD OF the World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised the ‘me-first’ attitude of wealthy nations, accusing them of hogging Covid-19 vaccine doses while developing countries suffer.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus  said the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic morale failure” if this continues. 

He also blasted vaccine manufacturers for chasing regulatory approval in rich countries rather than submitting their data to the WHO to green-light vaccine use globally.

In a speech in Geneva opening a WHO executive board meeting yesterday, he said the promise of worldwide equitable access to coronavirus vaccines was now at serious risk.

Tedros said 39 million doses of coronavirus vaccines had been administered so far in at least 49 higher income countries.

Meanwhile, “just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country. Not 25 million; not 25,000; just 25,” he said.

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.

He said even as some countries pronounced reassuring words on equitable access, they were prioritising their own deals with manufacturers, driving up prices and trying to jump the queue.

He said 44 such deals were struck in 2020 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,” Tedros said.

Not only does this ‘me-first’ approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self defeating.

“Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, prolong our pain, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.”

The WHO has only approved emergency use validation for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and Tedros urged other manufacturers to come forward with their data for regulatory review.

Covax, the WHO co-led globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort, has struck agreements with five manufacturers for two billion vaccine doses.

It aims to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the population in each participating country by the end of the year, with funding covered for the 92 lower- and lower-middle income economies involved.

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Tedros said there will be enough vaccine for everyone but it is “not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries”.

Meanwhile an independent report has concluded both the WHO and China could have acted faster when the virus first surfaced. 

A report by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has stated “there was potential for early signs to have been acted on more rapidly”.

It added that countries where the virus was likely to spread should have put containment measures in place immediately.

- © AFP 2021 with reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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