GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warns the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between rich and poor countries will prolong the global pandemic. Tedros delivered this stark warning Monday at the opening of a week-long meeting of the WHO Executive Board.
WHO chief Tedros called the development and approval of safe, effective vaccines less than a year after the coronavirus emerged a stunning scientific achievement.
However, he warned that hopes of quickly ending the pandemic are in danger. This, because the richer countries are buying up and hoarding all the available vaccines, leaving none for the poorer 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 25,000; just 25,” he said.
A global initiative, COVAX, was formed nine months ago to ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for every country. The organization has managed to secure two billion doses from five producers, with options to receive more than a billion more doses.
But Tedros said plans to start vaccine deliveries in February to many of the world’s poorer countries are now at risk. He said he fears a number of high-income countries may backtrack on their promises of equitable distribution.
“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.
Tedros said he considers this me-first approach self-defeating. He warned rich countries will pay a heavy price in ignoring the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
These actions, he said, will prolong the pandemic, and added that the restrictions needed to contain the virus will increase human and economic suffering.