Inequity of COVID-19 vaccines grows more outrageous every day – WHO chief

WHO cautions against using dexamethasone for mild COVID-19 cases
World Health Organization (WHO), Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The growing gap between the number of COVID-19 vaccines being given in rich countries and those administered through COVAX is becoming more outrageous every day,” the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said.

Dr Tedros pointed out that while some countries are vaccinating their entire populations, others have no shots, but hastened to add that WHO has been working “day and night to find solutions to increase the production and equitable distribution of vaccines.

“In January, I said that the world was on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure unless urgent steps were taken to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines,” Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, told journalists at a regular news briefing. “We have the means to avert this failure, but it’s shocking how little has been done to avert it,” he added.”

According to Dr Tedros, the inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage, it’s also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating. He pointed out that some nations are vaccinating low risk, younger people at the cost of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries.

And because more transmissions mean more variants, Dr Tedros upheld that the imbalance in jabs only provides a false sense of security as the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines. “As long as the virus continues to circulate anywhere, people will continue to die, trade and travel will continue to be disrupted, and the economic recovery will be further delayed,” he spelt out.

Last Friday, the WHO hosted a meeting on enhancing genomic sequencing of the coronavirus, to better monitor its evolution in the face of the many mutations that are raising international concern.  Tedros said that while knowing when, how and where the virus is evolving, is vital information, it is of limited use if countries do not work together to suppress transmission “everywhere at the same time”.

“If countries won’t share vaccines for the right reasons, we appeal to them to do it out of self-interest”, he said.

Tedros also informed the journalists that he had spoken to vaccine manufacturers on how to ramp up production, including the CEO of AstraZeneca, manufacturer of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca shots which were temporarily suspended by a group of countries, mainly in Europe, amid concerns over blood-clotting statistics.

Read Also: African countries not prepared for COVID-19 vaccine – WHO

Germany, France, Italy and Spain, are among those who have begun using the vaccine again following reassurances from top regulators. On Monday, a large study in the United States, Chile and Peru, reportedly showed that the vaccine was 79 per cent effective in preventing the illness and 100 per cent effective against severe symptoms and hospitalization.

He flagged that AstraZeneca is the only company that has committed to not profiting from its COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic and the only vaccine developer that has made a significant contribution to vaccine equity, by licensing its technology to several other companies. This includes in Korea and India, which manufacturers are producing more than 90 per cent of COVAX distributed vaccines.