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WHO Urges World Community to Donate COVID Vaccines to Poorer Countries

A man holds a banner reading "We want vaccine" during a protest against new measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 26, 2021.
A man holds a banner reading "We want vaccine" during a protest against new measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 26, 2021.

The head of the World Health Organization on Friday urged the global community to donate COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries, citing the urgent need for 10 million doses for a WHO-backed vaccine distribution program.

"COVAX is ready to deliver but we can't deliver vaccines we don't have," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual news conference in Geneva.

"Bilateral deals, export bans and vaccine nationalism have caused distortions in the market with gross inequities in supply and demand," Tedros said. "Ten million doses are not much and it's not nearly enough."

COVAX, an abbreviation for the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access initiative, aims to provide equitable access to vaccines worldwide.

The WHO chief called on countries to donate spare doses of vaccines to COVAX because a rush to secure vaccines around the world delayed deliveries that COVAX had anticipated.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations in New York, 181 nations signed on to a political declaration that calls for COVID-19 vaccinations to be treated as a global public good, ensuring affordable, equitable and fair access to vaccines for all.

"We can see the end of the crisis, but to reach it, we need to work together with a deeper sense of collaboration," part of the declaration states.

Among the appeals are calls on nations to fully fund the COVAX facility to distribute vaccines to poor and developing countries, to scale up vaccine production through the distribution of technology and licenses, and to launch public information campaigns on the importance and safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

COVAX has distributed more than 31 million doses of vaccines to 57 countries.

"There is a race everywhere between the vaccines and the pandemic," said Lebanon's Ambassador Amal Mudallali, on behalf of the countries that drafted the document. "This race will be won before the start by the 'haves,' if there is no equitable, affordable sharing of vaccines."

Global numbers

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported Friday afternoon that total global COVID-19 infections were at 125.9 million.

The United States had more cases than another country, with 30.1 million infections, followed by Brazil, with 12.3 million, and India, with 11.8 million.

India said Friday that it had set a record with a tally of more than 59,000 new cases from the previous 24-hour period.

On Thursday, Brazil said it had recorded its highest number of new coronavirus cases in 24 hours with 100,158 infections.

UNESCO study

Separately, UNESCO said a new study has found that the coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected the reading proficiency of over 100 million children.

"The number of children lacking basic reading skills was on a downward curve prior to the pandemic and expected to fall from 483 million to 460 million in 2020," UNESCO said in a statement Thursday. "Instead, as a result of the pandemic, the number of children in difficulty jumped to 584 million in 2020, increasing by more than 20% and wiping out gains made over the past two decades through education efforts."

UNESCO is convening a meeting Monday with education ministers from around the world to discuss ways to combat the trend.

Canada hit a stumbling block in its vaccination program when U.S. vaccine manufacturer Moderna said it was delaying a shipment of nearly 600,000 shots expected to be delivered this weekend.

Anita Anand, Canada's federal procurement minister, said Moderna officials attributed the setback to a "backlog in its quality assurance process." The vaccines, however, are expected to be shipped out before the end of next week.

VOA's Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.