The "inequitable distribution" of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide is becoming "more grotesque every day," the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday, renewing calls for more solidarity.
"The gap between the number of vaccines administered in rich countries, and the number of vaccines administered through COVAX is growing every single day, and becoming more grotesque every day," WHO chief Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus Adhanom told reporters.
"Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries.
"The world’s poorest countries wonder whether rich countries really mean what they say when they talk about solidarity," he added.
COVAX is a vaccine distribution initiative co-led by the WHO. It aims for the COVID-19 vaccines to have been rolled out in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021, including in 92 lower-income economies, and for about 20 per cent of the population of every country to have been inoculated by the end of the year.
About 448 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have so far been administered worldwide. The US, UK and EU/EEA together account for over 206 million of the doses administered.
Meanwhile, over 31 million doses had been delivered to 57 countries through the COVAX programme as of Monday.
Overall, only 0.1 per cent of doses administered worldwide have been administered in "low-income" countries, while "high-income" countries (16 per cent of the world's population) account for more than half of the doses injected.
Dr. Tedros stressed that "the inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage. It’s also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating."
"Some countries are racing to vaccinate their entire populations while other countries have nothing. This may buy short-term security, but it’s a false sense of security.
"The more transmission, the more variants. And the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines.
"And 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 went on.
He did not put some countries on blast but praised South Korea, which he said "has waited its turn for vaccines through COVAX" despite "being a high-income country that could easily afford to buy vaccines through bilateral deals."
He also flagged that AstraZeneca for being "the only company that has committed to not profiting from its COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic."
"And so far, it’s the only vaccine developer that has made a significant contribution to vaccine equity, by licensing its technology to several other companies, including SK Bio in the Republic of Korea and the Serum Institute of India," he pointed out.
Nearly 123 million people have contracted the deadly virus since the beginning of the pandemic with COVID-19 also claiming more than 2.7 million lives, according to WHO figures.