Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has called on countries to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Speaking in Geneva at a WHO executive board meeting on Monday, Ghebreyesus noted that just 25 doses of the COVID vaccine had been administered in one lowest-income country, while over 39 million have gone round more than 40 higher-income nations.
While noting that it is right that governments would want to vaccinate their citizens first, he said it is wrong “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,” he said.
He added that due to the lack of equitable access to vaccines for all countries, the world is at risk of a “catastrophic moral failure”.
“As the first vaccines begin to be deployed, the promise of equitable access is at serious risk,” he said.
“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 25,000; just 25.
“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.
“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. This is wrong.
“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 — the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.”
He called on all countries to work together to ensure the vaccination of health workers and older people in all countries – within the first 100 days of 2021.
“It’s in the best interest of each and every nation on earth,” he added.