Countries hoarding COVID vaccines will 'prolong the pandemic', WHO chief warns

Ross McGuinness
·3-min read
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) attends a session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak response of the WHO Executive Board in Geneva, Switzerland, October 5, 2020.  Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said COVID vaccines must be shared between nations. (Reuters)

The world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” if the world’s richest countries “hoard” COVID-19 vaccines, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said people in the world’s poorest nations are being forgotten in the global race to vaccinate against coronavirus.

He said rich nations’ attempts to “jump to the front of the queue” for vaccines will “only prolong the pandemic”.

In a speech from Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, Dr Tedros said: “I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure.

A nurse prepares a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the NHS vaccine centre that has been set up in the grounds of the horse racing course at Epsom in Surrey. The centre is one of the seven mass vaccination centres now opened to the general public as the UK government continues to ramp up the vaccination programme against Covid-19.
A nurse prepares a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the NHS vaccine centre at Epsom in Surrey, England. (PA)

“And the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.”

He said a “me-first approach” had left the “world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk”.

Dr Tedros pointed out that more than 39 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in at least 49 “higher-income” countries.

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He compared this to one “lowest-income country”, where only 25 doses had been given so far.

During the virtual meeting, a delegate from the African nation of Burkina Faso said a few countries had “hoovered up” most of the supplies.

Dr Tedros said: “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.”

Watch: WHO ‘won’t rest’ until all countries have vaccines access

He warned that more than 50 bilateral deals signed in the past year by some countries and vaccine manufacturers could scupper deliveries under the WHO’s own COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme.

He said such deals could create the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, “with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption”.

Dr Tedros said: “Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritise bilateral deals… driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong.”

The UK government has secured access to 367 million coronavirus vaccine doses from seven vaccine developers with four different vaccine types, according to its COVID-19 vaccines delivery plan.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Monday that most people who have received their first jab will be given their second in March.

The UK was the first country to approve the use of both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, and aims to offer jabs to 15 million people by the middle of February.

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Ten more COVID-19 mass vaccination centres opened in England on Monday as the government pledged that every adult in the UK will be offered a coronavirus vaccine by September. The rollout to those aged 70 and over begins this week.

The number of people in the UK to receive a first vaccine dose is 3.8 million.

According to statistics compiled by Our World in Data, the US has administered more than 12 million vaccine doses, while China has given out more than 10 million.

Israel, which has administered 2.4 million vaccine doses, has the highest number of jabs per 100 people at 28, compared to the UK with 6 per 100.

Watch: Vaccine to be offered to over-70s as more mass hubs open