WHO battles false claim that its boss Dr Tedros is unvaccinated

Video clip was 'manipulated' to show world health chief appearing to suggest he had not had a coronavirus shot

The false claim that Dr Tedros was unvaccinated gained traction online. AP
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Senior officials at the World Health Organisation have spent days rebutting a false claim that their boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had never been vaccinated against Covid-19.

A clip that circulated on social media was misrepresented as though it showed Dr Tedros sidestepping a question about when he was vaccinated, saying he wanted to wait until more shots became available in Africa.

But Dr Tedros had his first vaccine in May 2021 and was merely explaining why he had not had it earlier.

After the false claim that Dr Tedros was unvaccinated gained traction online, the WHO stepped in to say he was fully inoculated and boosted and that misinformation "derails all efforts towards fighting this virus".

Officials were still fighting fires days later. "When liars lie and put lives in jeopardy, one must act," said Gabby Stern, the WHO's director of communications, in a Twitter intervention on Sunday.

"This is why I and many others have been rebutting this lie about Dr Tedros over the past few days. Bottom line: vaccines save lives."

Ted Chaiban, a co-ordinator of the vaccine partnership between the WHO, Unicef and Gavi, insisted the pandemic had shown that leadership mattered and said: "Let's fight this pandemic together ... let's lead with science."

Jon Cohen, the interviewer during the clip in question, confirmed that the WHO chief had not said he was unvaccinated.

A transcript published last June by Science magazine showed Dr Tedros answering that he was vaccinated on May 12, 2021, then being asked by Mr Cohen why he had waited when vaccines were available from late 2020.

"I know where I belong — in a poor country called Ethiopia, in a poor continent called Africa — and wanted to wait until Africa and other countries in other regions, low-income countries, start vaccination," Dr Tedros replied.

"I was protesting in other words, because we're failing."

His answers were later cut together for a documentary, How to Survive a Pandemic, which appeared to be the origin of the clip being shared online.

Twitter flagged the video as "manipulated media".

Dr Tedros spent much of 2021 banging the drum for vaccine equity after wealthy countries were accused of hoarding supplies of Covid-19 shots.

After receiving his own first dose, he told a press conference in Geneva two days later that it was a "bittersweet moment" because so many people were not yet protected.

The WHO set a target of 70 per cent global vaccination coverage by the middle of this year, but only 58 out of 194 member countries had reached this target by June.

Dr Tedros, 57, was re-elected for a second five-year term as WHO director general in May.

Updated: August 08, 2022, 10:08 AM