GENEVA • The Covid-19 pandemic is perpetuated by a “scandalous injustice” in the distribution of vaccines, said yesterday the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) by setting new objectives to protect the populations of the countries poorer.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that no country should assume it is “out of the woods”, regardless of its vaccination rate, as long as the Sars-CoV-2 virus and its variants spread elsewhere.
He also noted that at least 115,000 health and care workers have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
“For nearly 18 months, health and care workers around the world have stood between life and death,” Dr Tedros said at the opening of WHO’s main annual meeting ministers of health from its 194 member states, saluting the sacrifices made by health workers around the world to fight the pandemic.
“They saved countless lives and fought for others who, despite their best efforts, escaped,” he said.
“Many of them have been infected themselves and, although reports are rare, we estimate that at least 115,000 health and care workers have paid the ultimate price for serving others.
He said many health workers have felt since the start of the crisis “frustrated, helpless and unprotected due to lack of access to personal protective equipment and vaccines.”
And they are not alone. He called the general inequity of access to vaccines “scandalous”, warning that it “perpetuated the pandemic”.
More than 75% of all Covid-19 vaccines have gone to just 10 countries.
“There is no diplomatic way to say it: a small group of countries that manufacture and buy the majority of vaccines in the world control the fate of the rest of the world,” he said.
The Covax facility, run by the WHO and the Gavi vaccine alliance, has delivered 72 million doses of vaccine to 125 countries and economies since February – barely enough for 1% of their population, said Dr Tedros .
“Today, I call on Member States to support a massive campaign to immunize at least 10% of the population of each country by September,” he said, calling for expanding coverage to 30% d ‘by the end of the year.
That meant vaccinating an additional 250 million people in just four months, he said.
“This is crucial for stopping disease and death, ensuring the safety of our healthcare workers, reopening our societies and our economies,” said Dr Tedros.
He also called on vaccine manufacturers to give Covax the first right of refusal on new vaccine volumes, or commit 50% of their volumes to Covax this year.
“The world remains in a very dangerous situation,” said Dr Tedros.
“To date, more cases have been reported so far this year than in all of 2020. Based on current trends, the number of deaths will exceed last year’s total in the next three weeks. It’s very tragic, ”he said.
More than a year after the start of the pandemic, cases around the world have increased 40-fold to over 160 million, while the number of deaths has increased 11 times to more than three million, according to statistics from WHO.
French President Emmanuel Macron called on the WHO to be empowered to quickly travel to countries in the event of an epidemic that could trigger a pandemic and to access data.
Mr Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in separate prerecorded remarks to the assembly, called for improved funding for the UN agency and supported the idea of a new international treaty to prevent pandemics.
Coronavirus vaccine producers pledged billions of doses for the poorest countries at a G-20 health summit last Friday, where leaders pledged to expand access to injections as the only way to end the pandemic.
The bosses of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have announced that they will provide around 3.5 billion doses of the vaccine at cost or at a discount to low- and middle-income countries this year and next.
The European Union has pledged to donate 100 million doses and invest in regional manufacturing centers in Africa to reduce the continent’s dependence on imports.
REUTERS, FRANCE-PRESSE AGENCY, XINHUA