Stop vaccine nationalism

WHO urges rich countries

Diplomatic Correspondent

17 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has appealed to wealthier countries to delay vaccinating younger people against Covid-19 and instead donate doses to the COVAX global vaccine solidarity initiative.

Speaking during WHO’s bi-weekly media briefing, agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated his warning against “vaccine nationalism”, as  low-income nations currently receive a paltry 0.3 percent of supply. “In a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the vaccine supply, lower risk groups are now being vaccinated,” he said.

“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to COVAX.”  

Tedros reported that vaccine supply in low and lower-middle income countries has not been sufficient to even immunize health and care workers. “Trickle down vaccination is not an effective strategy for fighting a deadly respiratory virus,” he said. As of Friday, there were more than 160.8 million cases of Covid-19 globally.

The disease “has already cost more than 3.3 million lives and we’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first” , Tedros told journalists on Friday.

India remains “hugely concerning”, he said, with several states continuing to see a worrying number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand  and Egypt are also among countries that are dealing with spikes in cases and hospitalizations. 

“Some countries in the Americas still have high numbers of cases and as a region, the Americas accounted for 40 percent of all Covid-19 deaths last week. There are also spikes in some countries in Africa.”

Tedros stressed that the only way out of the pandemic is through a combination of public health measures and vaccination, not one or the other.

While vaccine supply remains a key challenge, he pointed to new developments this week to address surrounding issues.

Several countries have announced they will share vaccines with COVAX. Other measures include new deals on tech transfers to scale-up vaccine production, and calls by world leaders to lift trade barriers.