GENEVA, Switzerland — The head of the World Health Organization says it’s “not right” that younger, healthier adults in rich countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people in poorer countries.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off WHO’s week-long executive board meeting -- virtually from its headquarters in Geneva -- on Monday by lamenting that only 25 vaccine doses have been provided in a single poor country, while over 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.
“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country -- not 25 million, not 25,000 -- just 25. I need to be blunt,” Tedros said. He did not specify the country.
Tedros, an Ethiopian who goes by his first name, nonetheless hailed the scientific achievement behind rolling out vaccines less than a year after the pandemic erupted in China, where a WHO-backed team has now been deployed to look into the origins of the coronavirus.
“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figuratively,” he said. “But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the world’s haves and have-nots.”
In some of his toughest public words yet against vaccine makers, Tedros again criticized “bilateral deals” between drug companies and countries that hurt the ability of the WHO-backed COVAX program that aims to get vaccines to all countries based on need.
“Most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where the profits are highest, rather than submitting'' data to WHO, he said, so it can approve vaccines for wider use.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The United States has nearly 24 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
As of Monday, the U.S. had nearly 380,000 deaths from the virus. Worldwide, there are more than 95 million confirmed cases with more than 2 million deaths.