The World Health Organisation (WHO) called on Friday for rich nations to delay COVID-19 vaccinations of children and donate doses to lower-income countries, warning that the second year of the pandemic could be deadlier.
"In a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the vaccine supply, lower risk groups are now being vaccinated," WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters from Geneva.
"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," he added.
COVAX is a vaccine-sharing scheme co-led by the WHO which aims to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population in its 92 low and middle-income member states before the end of the year.
Only 0.3 per cent of vaccine supply has so far gone to low-income countries with, as of May 12, some 59 million doses of vaccines delivered through COVAX.
An independent review of the handling of the pandemic worldwide concluded earlier this week that to derail the pandemic quickly, rich countries needed to donate about one billion doses to lower income nations before September 1.
According to Our World in Data, over 30 percent of the 1.26 billion people living in high-income countries worldwide have received at least one dose of the vaccine. In contrast just 0.35 per cent of people in low income countries and 5.75 per cent in lower middle income countries have received a shot so far. Together, these two groups account for nearly 3.9 billion people — half the global population.
Vaccinations of children aged 12 to 15 has already been approved in Canada and the US. The European Medicines Agency has meanwhile launched a review and is expected to give its backing in mid-June.
Dr Tedros stressed that in "low and lower-middle income countries, vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunise health and care workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently."
"COVID-19 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," he also warned.
WHO's latest weekly report on the pandemic showed that the Americas accounted for 40 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths last week, while India alone, accounted for 30 per cent.
The flare-ups are partly blamed on variants, believed to be more transmissible and resistant to treatment. The WHO has designated the variants first discovered in Britain, Brazil, South Africa and Indias as "of concern."