The covid-19 pandemic “will last a year longer than it should” because the poorest countries are not receiving the vaccines they need, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, one of the leaders of the WHO, said that, in this context, the crisis caused by the spread of SARS-Cov-2 could “easily last until 2022.”
Less than 5% of the population of Africa has been vaccinated with both doses, compared to 40% on most other continents.
The original idea behind Covax, the United Nations-backed global program to distribute vaccines fairly, was that all countries could acquire vaccines through that mechanism, including participating wealthy countries.
But most G7 countries decided to hold back after they started doing bilateral agreements directly with pharmaceutical companies to secure your own vaccinations.
The vast majority of covid vaccines have been used in high- or upper-middle-income countries. Africa accounts for only 2.6% of the doses administered globally.
A group of charities, including Oxfam and UNAids, criticized Canada and the United Kingdom for purchasing vaccines for their own populations through Covax.
Official figures show that earlier this year, the UK received 539,370 doses of Pfizer, while Canada took just under one million doses of AstraZeneca.
Aylward called on rich countries to give up their positions in the queue to buy vaccines so that pharmaceutical companies can prioritize lower income countries.
He noted that rich countries need to “make an assessment” of where they stand with respect to donation commitments they made at summits like the G7 meeting in the summer.
“I can tell you that we are not on the right track,” he said. “We really need to speed it up (the distribution of vaccines) or you know what, this pandemic will last a year longer than necessary.”
The UK has delivered more than 10 million vaccines to countries that need them and has promised to give a total of 100 million.
The alliance of charities People’s Vaccine has released new figures suggesting that only one in seven of the doses promised by drug companies and rich countries are reaching their destinations in poorer countries.
Oxfam’s global health advisor, Rohit Malpani, acknowledged that Canada and the UK were technically entitled to receive vaccines through this route, having made payments to the Covax mechanism, but said it was still “morally indefensible” given that both countries had obtained millions of doses through their own bilateral agreements.
“They shouldn’t have bought these doses of Covax,” he said. “There is nothing better than playing double, which means that the poorest countries that are already at the end of the queue, they will end up waiting longer“.
The UK government noted that it was one of the countries that had “launched” Covax last year, with a $ 755 million donation.
The Canadian government emphasized that it had stopped using Covax vaccines.
“As soon as it became clear that the supply that we had secured through our bilateral agreements would be sufficient for the Canadian population, we returned the doses that we had purchased from Covax to Covax so that could be redistributed to developing countries“said the Minister of International Development of that country, Karina Gould.
Covax originally aimed to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccines by the end of this year, but has shipped 371 million doses so far.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.