World faces ‘catastrophic moral failure’ over Covid-19 vaccines

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World faces ‘catastrophic moral failure’ over Covid-19 vaccinesGENEVA (AA): At least 49 higher-income countries have administered over 39 million jabs against COVID-19, but the World Health Organization chief warned Monday the planet is on the “brink of a catastrophic moral failure” in getting vaccines to the poorest nations.

“More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus on the opening day of the 148th meeting of the health body’s executive board.

“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million, not 25,000, [but] 25.”

Tedros 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 the development and approval of safe and effective vaccines less than a year after the emergence of a new virus is a “stunning scientific achievement and a much-needed source of hope.”

“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need — literally and figuratively,” said Tedros.

That is why the recent emergence of rapidly spreading coronavirus variants make a fast and equitable rollout of vaccines so important.

“But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots,” said Tedros.

It is right that all governments want to prioritize vaccinating their health workers and older people first, he noted.

“But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”

For the past nine months, the ACT Accelerator — Access to COVID-19 Tools — and the COVAX vaccines pillar had laid the groundwork for the equitable distribution and deployment of vaccines overcoming scientific, legal, logistical, and regulatory barriers, Tedros stressed.

“We’ve secured 2 billion doses from five producers, with options on more than 1 billion more doses, and we aim to start deliveries in February,” said the WHO chief.

Without giving names, he said some countries and companies are prioritizing bilateral deals, going around COVAX, “driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue.”

Tedros said 44 bilateral deals were signed last year, and at least 12 have already been signed so far this year.

“The situation is compounded by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO,” he said.

Also, Turkey’s representative during the meeting said: “There is an increasing concern in the international community that countries with limited sources will have late access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“We commend the director-general’s efforts in pointing out this risk as a threat to global public health. And we support the dg [director-general] who and all relevant partners to take necessary steps to avoid inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine.”

UK has already vaccinated over 4.6m people and the US President-elect, Joe Biden, has promised to vaccinate 100m people in first 100 days of his presidency.

[Photo: Indonesian medical worker receives first dose of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine during the second day of Covid-19 vaccination at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia on January 14, 2021. Photographer: Adi Marsiela/AA].

By Peter Kenny