Houston Chronicle

WHO chief: ‘Not right’ that poor, elderly waiting to be vaccinated

- By Jamey Keaten

GENEVA — The World Health Organizati­on chief on Monday lambasted drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequaliti­es, saying it’s “not right” that younger, healthier adults in wealthy countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people or health care workers in poorer countries and charging that most vaccine makers have targeted locations where “profits are highest.”

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu­s kicked off WHO’s weeklong executive board meeting — virtually from its headquarte­rs in Geneva — by lamenting that one poor country received a mere 25 vaccine doses 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: The world is on the brink of a catastroph­ic moral failure,” Tedros said. He did not specify the country, but a WHO spokeswoma­n identified it as Guinea.

“It’s right that all government­s want to prioritize vaccinatin­g their own health workers and older people first,“he said. “But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries. There will be enough vaccine for everyone.”

Tedros, an Ethiopian who goes by his first name, nonetheles­s hailed the scientific achievemen­t behind rolling out coronaviru­s vaccines less than a year after the pandemic erupted in China, where a WHObacked team has now been deployed to look into origins of the coronaviru­s.

“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figurative­ly,” Tedros 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.”

He noted the WHObacked COVAX program, which aims to get vaccines out to all countries, rich or poor, based on need, has so far secured 2 billion vaccine doses from five producers and options on a billion doses more.

“We aim to start deliveries in February,” he said. “COVAX is ready to deliver what it was created for.”

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