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Nurses in poorer countries 'left behind' in COVID-19 vaccination race

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By Natalie Huet  & Alasdair Sandford
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Nurse Cristina Chango receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine against COVID-19 at the Pablo Arturo Suarez Hospital in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.
Nurse Cristina Chango receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine against COVID-19 at the Pablo Arturo Suarez Hospital in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa

Health workers in developing countries are losing out in the race for coronavirus vaccinations, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) warns, stressing the situation could create breeding grounds for new variants.

The ICN conducted a survey across 54 countries showing that 88% of those nations that have started vaccinating nurses are high- or upper-middle-income countries.

Most low- and middle-income countries, meanwhile, haven't started yet – and many have no idea when they might.

"We're not going to defeat this virus as individual nations. We need to fight it as one world because it is mutating and it is transmitting more quickly," Howard Catton, chief executive of the ICN, told Euronews.

"We need vulnerable and health care workers prioritised in all countries. And that means that for high-income countries before they move on to vaccinating younger people who are less vulnerable, we believe that they should be helping to get health workers and nurses vaccinated in countries where it hasn't started yet."

Millions of nurses have been infected with coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and more than 2,700 have died of COVID-19, according to the ICN.

The World Health Organization has called on all nations to begin coronavirus vaccine rollouts within the first 100 days of this year, i.e. by April 7. But the ICN warns that there is a “serious risk” that the world will miss that target.

"We need to be aiming for all our vulnerable people and health workers and nurses to be vaccinated by the end of this year. I mean, if we don't do that, we are going to continue to live with these restrictions in our lives," Catton said.

"So whichever way you look at it from the health, from the moral argument, from the economic argument, vaccinating nurses and health workers globally is a priority."

Watch the interview with Catton in the video player above.