WHO chief says world faces ‘catastrophic moral failure’ on vaccine distribution

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urges nations to share the COVID-19 vaccines.

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urges nations to share the COVID-19 vaccines. Photo: WHO/Twitter

The head of the World Health Organisation says the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” on distributing vaccines, urging countries and manufacturers to share COVID-19 doses more fairly.

“Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk, it is also self-defeating,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the opening of the body’s annual executive board meeting on Monday.

“Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic.”

Dr Tedros said history was in danger of repeating.

“Forty years ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life-saving medicines were developed, but more than a decade passed before the world’s poor got access to them,” he said.

“Twelve years ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life-saving vaccines were developed, but by the time the world’s poor got access, the pandemic was over.

“One year ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life-saving vaccines have been developed. What happens next is up to us.”

Dr Tedros hailed the ‘‘stunning scientific achievement‘‘ of developing a safe vaccine within a year as a ‘‘much-needed source of hope’’.

“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need – literally and figuratively. The recent emergence of rapidly-spreading variants makes the rapid and equitable rollout of vaccines all the more important,” he said.

“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.”

Pfizer and Moderna have had 95 per cent success rates with their vaccines. Photo: ABC News

He urged governments across the globe to share resources to defeat COVID-19.

“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,” Dr Tedros said.

“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 disease and death, in all 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; 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.”

Dr Tedros called on nations to ‘‘change the rules of the game’’ in three ways so that vaccinations were occurring worldwide within 100 days.

  1. We call on countries with bilateral contracts – and control of supply – to be transparent on these contracts with COVAX, including on volumes, pricing and delivery dates”
  2. “We call on vaccine producers to provide WHO with full data for regulatory review in real time, to accelerate approvals”
  3. “We call on all countries introducing vaccines to only use vaccines that meet rigorous international standards for safety, efficacy and quality, and to accelerate readiness for deployment.”

Dr Tedros issued a challenge to all member states to have vaccines administered by World Health Day on April 7 “as a symbol of hope for overcoming both the pandemic and the inequalities that lie at the root of so many health challenges”.

“The #COVID19 pandemic has lessons for all of us – for every member state, and for the secretariat. All of us must have the humility to learn, to change, to innovate and to grow.”

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