WHO warns not enough COVID vaccines to stop pandemic

Row Covid-19 or Coronavirus vaccine flasks on white background
Row Covid-19 or Coronavirus vaccine flasks on white background

The World Health Organization (WHO) Has warned that there are not enough COVID vaccines worldwide to bring the coronavirus epidemic under control.

WHO Health Emergencies Programme leader Maria Van Kerkhove told a media briefing on Friday: "Many countries are rolling out vaccines now but we do not have sufficient vaccines to change the course of the epidemic.

"We have to use vaccines smart."

Van Kerkhove's comments came after director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries across the world to share their vaccine supplies so that the WHO's COVAX programme could ensure the most vulnerable are protected, and warned that "hundreds of millions" more vaccines were needed to curb the pandemic.

He said: "Bilateral deals, export bans, vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy have caused distortions in the market, with gross inequities in supply and demand."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson receives a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, in London, Britain March 19, 2021. Frank Augstein/Pool via REUTERS
The UK has now administered more than 29,000 first doses of coronavirus vaccine (Frank Augstein/Pool via REUTERS)

Ghebreyesus said that around one in five countries have still not vaccinated any of their population.

"At the beginning of the year, I issued a call for countries to work together to ensure vaccination begins in all countries within the first 100 days of the year," he said.

"177 countries and economies have started vaccination. There are now just 15 days left before the 100th day of the year, and 36 countries that are still waiting for vaccines so they can start vaccinating health workers and older people.

"COVAX is ready to deliver, but we can’t deliver vaccines we don’t have.

"COVAX needs 10 million doses immediately as an urgent stop-gap measure so these 20 countries can start vaccinating their health workers and older people within the next two weeks."

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) speaks after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2021.  Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to 'donate as many vaccines as they can' to ensure the world's most vulnerable people are protcted against COVID-19 (Christopher Black/WHO/ via Reuters)

Ghebreyesus urged countries with vast supplies to "donate as many vaccines as they can".

"The more countries that donate as soon as possible the more doses we have to share with countries who need them desperately," he urged.

Throughout his opening speech the director general highlighter what he referred to as the "inequity" of vaccine distribution across the world.

"Ten million doses is not much, and it’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start," he said.

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"We will need hundreds of millions more doses in the coming months, and we are working around the clock to find ways to increase production and secure doses."

Earlier in the week Ghebreyesus branded richer countries' efforts to protect entire populations at the expense of those in poorer countries "grotesque”.

“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."

Epidemiologist Van Kerkhove told the conference that worldwide cases of coronavirus had risen 15% in recent weeks.

She and fellow board members urged people to continue to adhere to social distancing, regular hand-washing, and other preventative measures. She also echoed warnings that unless vaccines are distributed worldwide, variants may continue to emerge and the pandemic will continue.

The briefing took place as the UK neared the landmark of administering 30 million first doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Watch: UK's first dose vaccination nears 30 million

Despite fears of slowing supplies the government has insisted it is on course to deliver a first jab to all adults by the end of July.

Earlier this week, Sir Jeremy Farrar, professor of tropical medicine and the director of heath research charity Wellcome Trust, said that ensuring every country receives vaccine supplies is the best protection against new variants.

He warned that new variants could appear anywhere and “come back to haunt us in our own countries”.

Farrar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Supplying vaccines to the world is actually the way we can protect ourselves in our own countries as well, because the biggest risk at the moment for this pandemic is that new variants appear anywhere in the world and eventually come back to haunt us in our own countries.

“And if we allow that to happen by increasing transmission around the world and by not offering vaccines around the world then this pandemic will continue for months and years to come.

“The best way out of this is to make vaccines available globally.”

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