GENEVA (Reuters) – Coronavirus vaccines remain out of reach in the poorest countries, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, marking the first anniversary of the COVAX dose-sharing facility.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly denounced inequities in vaccine distribution and urged wealthier countries to share excess doses to help inoculate health workers in low-income countries.
More than 3.2 million people have died in the pandemic worldwide.
“Nearly 900 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 81% have gone to high- or upper middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.3%,” Tedros said in a report about the ACT (Access to COVID-19 Tools) Accelerator set up a year ago.
The European Commission said it had sealed the world’s biggest vaccine supply deal, agreeing to buy up to 1.8 billion doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for the next few years as a debate rages over access to shots for the world’s poorest people.
Its President Ursula Von der Leyen, in a recorded message to the WHO press conference: “The response of too many leaders was ‘my country first’. We made a different choice. We knew that we needed to fight this virus not just at home but in all continents and countries, from Asia’s megacities to Africa’s most remote villages.”
Tedros also said that he was concerned about the rising caseload in India saying: “The situation in India is a devastating reminder of what the virus can do.”
India reported the world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus infections for a second day on Friday, surpassing 330,000 new cases, as it struggles with a health system overwhelmed by patients and plagued by accidents and lack of medical oxygen.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that one in six Europeans had been vaccinated, one in five in North America but just one in 100 in Africa.
“It’s unacceptable,” he said.
France will step up vaccine donations to COVAX in the coming months, providing 500,000 shots, including from suppliers other than AstraZeneca, Macron said, urging others to do the same.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called on pharmaceutical companies to transfer mRNA vaccine technology to low- and middle-income countries “free of intellectual property barriers”.
“Let us together challenge vaccine nationalism and ensure that protecting intellectual property rights does not come at the expense of human lives,” he added.
The ACT Accelerator still needs $19 billion this year, Tedros said adding: “That’s a drop in the ocean compared with the trillions of dollars governments are spending on supporting their economies, and the massive revenues that most vaccine makers are generating.”
Dag Ulstein, Norwegian minister of international development, told the same briefing: “Continued lack of financial support for the ACT Accelerator poses a major obstacle for its ability to deliver at scale.”
COVAX, which has shipped 40.5 million doses to 118 countries so far, aims to secure 2 billion shots by the end of 2021.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Emma Farge and Alexander Winning; Writing by Stehanie Nebehay and Nick Macfie; editing by Louise Heavens)