The World Health Organization says wealthy nations have bought most of the current supply of available COVID-19 vaccine, leaving the world’s poorest nations unable to obtain them.
At the agency’s regular briefing Friday in Geneva, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO-organized international vaccine cooperative, COVAX, has now secured contracts for 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which it is prepared to roll out in low-and-middle-income countries as soon as they are delivered.
Tedros said the vaccine cooperative has first right of refusal on an additional billion doses. But 42 countries - 36 wealthy nations and six “middle-income” nations - are operating COVID-19 vaccines programs. That leaves no additional available vaccine for the poorer nations.
Adding to the problem, Tedros said both high and middle-income countries, that are part of the COVAX program, are making additional bilateral deals for vaccine. “This potentially bumps up the price for everyone and means high-risk people in the poorest and most marginalized countries don’t get the vaccine,” he said.
The WHO chief said the hoarding of vaccine by the richest nations - which he calls “vaccine nationalism” – is self-defeating and hurts the entire world. On the other hand, Tedros said equitably sharing vaccines saves lives, stabilizes health systems and would help the global economy recover more quickly.
Tedros emphasized that vaccinating equitably helps reduce transmission, which also lessens the virus’ opportunity to mutate.
He called on manufacturers to prioritize vaccine supply and rollout through COVAX, and he urged countries that have contracted for more vaccine than they will need to also donate and release it to COVAX immediately.
He said, “Remember, ending the COVID-19 pandemic is one of humanities great races, and whether we like it or not, we will win or lose this race together.”