WHO director “appalled” at inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution

The director of the World Health Organization has said he is “appalled” at the extent of vaccine inequity spreading across the world. Global vaccine-sharing initiative COVAX has reported it is falling short of its distribution milestones as high and upper-middle income countries continue to take most supplies.

Early on in 2020 a global collaboration called COVAX was launched to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for low-income nations. The effort is led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Dozens of wealthy nations signed on to the initiative, promising to donate large volumes of vaccine doses.

The initial aim of COVAX was to deliver two billion COVID-19 doses to 92 low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021. A new supply forecast from COVAX is reporting it will fall short of that goal with only around 1.4 billion doses now expected by the end of the year.

“… the global picture of access to COVID-19 vaccines is unacceptable,” COVAX states in its latest report. “Only 20 percent of people in low- and lower-middle-income countries have received a first dose of vaccine compared to 80 percent in high- and upper-middle income countries. In the critical months during which COVAX was created, signed on participants, pooled demand, and raised enough money to make advance purchases of vaccines, much of the early global supply had already been bought by wealthy nations. Today, COVAX’s ability to protect the most vulnerable people in the world continues to be hampered by export bans, the prioritization of bilateral deals by manufacturers and countries, ongoing challenges in scaling up production by some key producers, and delays in filing for regulatory approval.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, was extraordinarily critical of wealthy countries hoarding vaccine doses in his latest media briefing. He pointed out less than 15 percent of the billion vaccine doses promised by wealthy countries have been delivered while booster doses are already being distributed in highly vaccinated nations.

“Yesterday, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association said that G7 countries now have enough vaccines for all their adults and teenagers, and to offer booster doses to at-risk groups, and that manufacturing scale-up should now shift to delivering global vaccine equity, including dose sharing,” Tedros said in his latest briefing. “When I read this, I was appalled. In reality, manufacturers and high-income countries have long had the capacity to not only vaccinate their own priority groups, but to simultaneously support the vaccination of those same groups in all countries.”

In early August the WHO called for a global moratorium on wealthy nations administering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots until the end of September. Now, the WHO is calling for that moratorium to be extended until the end of the year so crucial vaccine supplies can be diverted to those countries still yet to receive first doses.

Tedros does note this moratorium proposition does not apply to booster shots for at-risk populations such as the immunocompromised. Instead, he says broad booster plans for otherwise healthy fully vaccinated adults is unnecessary and inequitable.

“There has been a lot of talk about vaccine equity, but too little action,” he says. “We don’t want any more promises. We just want the vaccines.”

Source: Gavi, WHO