WHO chief slams wealthy countries over Covid vaccines

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says wealthy countries have failed to supply enough doses to poor nations

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO. Photo: Reuters
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Leaders of the world’s major health, financial and trade organisations are calling on wealthy countries to do more to ensure low-income countries receive equitable shares of Covid-19 vaccines.

They said that the failure to do so thus far has inhibited the global recovery from the pandemic.

At a panel hosted by CNN, the leaders of the World Health Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation condemned Covid vaccine disparity.

They said data from the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity showed 61 per cent of people in high-income countries have received at least one shot, compared with fewer than 4 per cent of people in low-income nations.

World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said vaccine donations from wealthy countries have had little impact on ensuring populations in poor countries had adequate access.

“The donations are not enough, and to be honest … very slow,” Dr Tedros said. “It’s very disappointing that it’s taken so long for the world to really commit.

“Epidemiologically it’s wrong, because we cannot end this pandemic. Economically it’s wrong, because the economy, globally, is not recovering. And also morally, it’s wrong.”

He said 70 per cent of global Covid-19 vaccine deliveries had gone to only 10 countries, which was “completely unfair”.

Africa has received by far the fewest vaccines, with only 166 million doses delivered for the continent’s 1.2 billion people.

“This will not end the pandemic. And it’s in the interest of all countries – rich, poor or middle-income – to end this pandemic,” Dr Tedros said.

The WHO has set an ambitious goal of vaccinating 40 per cent of the global population by the end of the year and 70 per cent by the middle of 2022.

Dr Tedros called on the G20, the world’s 20 wealthiest nations comprising 80 per cent of the global economy, to “own this target and make it happen".

“If there’s political commitment and they want to do it, they can do it,” he said.

Dr Tedros also criticised the decision by wealthy countries such as the US to start delivering booster shots given the Covid-19 vaccine supply shortage and global distribution disparity.

“The concentration of the problem is in one continent,” he said. “So, for countries to move into boosters without even providing single doses in Africa is not right. It has to be stopped.”

But World Bank President David Malpass said he believed wealthy countries delivering booster shots was not a major factor in the vaccine disparity.

“Production is going up so rapidly that it may be enough to reach targets in 2022,” Mr Malpass said.

“The thing that I would emphasise is for finance ministers in countries and their health ministers to seek contracts to try to get delivery dates that are early, and to ask for them and to request them.

"And then for advanced economies to go along with that, to help get that delivery date.”

But World Trade Organisation Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that “we cannot continue importing 99 per cent of our vaccines”, and that “we need to decentralise production to some of the countries that have no capacity".

“The WTO will be working with manufactures of these vaccines to help them with their supply chain problems, monitoring where the bottlenecks are so that we can be able to increase production, and at the same time working with them to encourage them to set up manufacturing in emerging markets and developing countries.”

Ms Okonjo-Iweala said Pfizer had recently reached an agreement with a South African company to start producing the vaccine there.

But on the same day as the panel convened, protesters in South Africa rallied outside the US, Belgian and Dutch embassies.

They called on those countries for quicker negotiations over a temporary waiver at the World Trade Organisation for intellectual property rights, which would allow other companies to begin producing vaccines.

US President Joe Biden's administration backed the waiver this year.

But the US executive director for Doctors Without Borders, Avril Benoit, said on Tuesday that the US “is now largely absent from the global effort to make it a reality”, and called on the world’s wealthiest country to “play a leadership role".

“As a global community, we should ask ourselves why do we even have the [intellectual property] waiver if we’re not going to use it under such unprecedented conditions?” Dr Tedros said.

“This is really something, I can say, where humanity is failing miserably.”

Updated: October 12, 2021, 8:14 PM