U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered a bleak forecast for 2022, saying Thursday that COVID-19 “is not going away” and vaccines alone will not end the pandemic.
“Vaccines are averting hospitalization and death for the majority who get them and slowing the spread, but transmissions show no sign of letting up,” he said. “This is driven by vaccine inequity, hesitancy and complacency.”
Guterres spoke to reporters virtually, after he was exposed to several people who later tested positive for COVID-19, including his chief spokesman. He has been working from his New York City home since Wednesday as a precaution.
It was the second time in the span of one week that the U.N. said the fully vaccinated Guterres, 72, was potentially exposed to the coronavirus and working from home.
Two months ago, the World Health Organization launched a campaign to vaccinate 40% of the global population by the end of this year and 70% by mid-2022. But with just two weeks to go, Guterres said, 98 countries will not meet the 2021 target.
“Forty countries have not yet even been able to vaccinate 10% of their population,” he said. “In lower-income countries, less than 4% of the population are fully vaccinated.”
Africa lags badly
Africa is especially struggling, with only about 7% of the continent vaccinated. The World Health Organization said this week that at this pace, it may not reach the 70% benchmark until August 2024. WHO said about 1.6 billion more doses are needed to reach the target.
“Vaccine inequity is giving variants a free pass to run wild — ravaging the health of people and economies in every corner of the globe,” Guterres said. “We cannot defeat a pandemic in an uncoordinated way.”
He said the rampant spread of the new omicron variant has also demonstrated that the strategy of some richer countries to hoard vaccine doses or use them as part of what’s become known as “vaccine diplomacy” has failed.
“My hope is that countries understand that from now on, we need to have an equitable way to address the pandemic or we will all be victims of it,” he said.
The secretary-general has been raising the alarm for some time on the economic impact and widening social inequalities the pandemic has exposed and accelerated, adding that uneven COVID-19 recovery efforts are increasing stresses on economies and people.
“This is a powder keg for social unrest and instability,” he warned. “It poses a clear and present danger to democratic institutions.”