Currently, there are forty-two countries that have begun to roll out their respective vaccine campaigns, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted during a weekend media briefing in Geneva.
However, only six of those nations are believed to be middle-income countries, while no low-income ones have launched any sort of vaccination program.
“There is a clear problem that low and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet,” Tedros said.
Starting vaccine campaigns in poorer countries has taken on more urgency in recent weeks, as coronavirus cases and related deaths have surged to record highs. According to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, more than ninety million people worldwide have been infected with the virus and at least 1.9 million have died.
Health officials and medical experts are also sounding the alarm regarding the more contagious variants of the virus, such as those identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, which have driven some countries to reimpose stringent lockdown measures to curb further spread.
Initial studies, though, have shown that the new variants don’t appear to be any deadlier and the existing vaccines are effective against them.
Still, Tedros asserted that vaccinating the world’s population more equitably must take on higher priority—otherwise, “we’re helping (the virus) thrive.”
“The current variants show that the virus is doing its best to make itself more suitable to ongoing circulation within the human population,” he added.
COVAX, a global alliance that aims to provide poor nations with coronavirus vaccines, has already landed its own deals with vaccine makers for roughly two billion doses. Some of the countries participating in this venture, however, have tried to close their own bilateral deals, which could further raise the prices for the shots, Tedros warned.
“Vaccine nationalism hurts us all and is self-defeating,” he said. “But on the flip side, vaccinating equitably saves lives, stabilizes health systems and would lead to a truly global economic recovery that stimulates job creation.”
According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance—an organization that includes Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now, and Oxfam—about seventy poor countries will only be able to vaccinate 10 percent of their populations because wealthier nations are hoarding more doses than they actually need.
The group noted that richer countries have purchased enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over by the end of 2021—if those vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials are all eventually approved for use. Canada topped the list with enough vaccines to inoculate each citizen five times.
“No one should be blocked from getting a life-saving vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket,” Anna Marriott, the health policy manager at Oxfam, said in a news release.
“But unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 for years to come.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.