The World Health Organization says wealthy nations have bought most of the current supply of available COVID-19 vaccine, leaving the world’s poorest nations unable to obtain them.
At the agency’s regular briefing Friday in Geneva, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO-organized international vaccine cooperative, COVAX, has now secured contracts for 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which it is prepared to roll out in low-and-middle-income countries as soon as they are delivered.
Tedros said the vaccine cooperative has first right of refusal on an additional billion doses. But 42 countries – 36 wealthy nations and six “middle-income” nations – are operating COVID-19 vaccines programs. That leaves no additional available vaccine for the poorer nations.
Adding to the problem, Tedros said both high and middle-income countries, that are part of the COVAX program, are making additional bilateral deals for vaccine. “This potentially bumps up the price for everyone and means high-risk people in the poorest and most marginalized countries don’t get the vaccine,” he said.
The WHO chief said the hoarding of vaccine by the richest nations – which he calls “vaccine nationalism” – is self-defeating and hurts the entire world. On the other hand, Tedros said equitably sharing vaccines saves lives, stabilizes health systems and would help the global economy recover more quickly.