Give away your doses once you’ve vaccinated vulnerable, WHO urges rich countries

Emily Cleary
·3 min read

Watch: WHO urges international cooperation on vaccines

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries such as Britain to share their vaccine supplies with poorer nations once their vulnerable are protected against coronavirus.

WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Friday evening: “There’s a disturbing narrative in some countries that it’s okay if older people die. It’s not okay. No one is dispensable. Every life is precious, regardless of age, gender, income, legal status, ethnicity or anything else.

“That’s why it’s so important that older people everywhere are prioritised for vaccination. Those most at risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19, including healthworkers and older people, must come first – and they must come first everywhere.

Resident Annie Innes, 90, receives the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Abercorn House Care Home in Hamilton, Scotland, Britain December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne/Pool     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The World Health Organization has urged countries like the UK to give poorer countries their extra supplies of vaccines once the vulnerable have been protected (REUTERS/Russell Cheyne/Pool)

"All governments have an obligation to protect their own people. But once countries with COVID-19 vaccines have vaccinated their own older people, the best way to protect the rest of their own population is to share vaccines so other countries can do the same.”

Ghebreyesus revealed that the number of vaccinations worldwide has now overtaken the number of reported infections.

“In one sense, that’s good news, and a remarkable achievement in such a short timeframe,” he said.

However, he exposed a gaping disparity between the amount of countries with access to vaccine supplies.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 09: Boxes of vials of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine sit in a fridge at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol, which is one of seven mass vaccination centres which will open on Monday, as the government continues to ramp up the vaccination programme against Covid-19 on January 9, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Andrew Matthews-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The World Health Organizatin is urging countries like Britain to share their vaccine supplies with poorer countries once the vulnerable have been immunised (Andrew Matthews-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

He continued: “More than three quarters of those vaccinations are in just ten countries that account for almost 60% of global GDP. Almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose.”

Delving deeper into the impact of the imbalance, Ghebreyesus said that “the longer it takes to vaccinate those most at risk everywhere, the more opportunity we give the COVID-19 virus to mutate and evade vaccines.

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“In other words, unless we suppress the virus everywhere, we could end up back at square one."

The stark warning came as Britain celebrated administering almost 11 million vaccines since the rollout was launched in December.

The UK government has set itself a target of having given a first dose of the vaccine to all four priority groups of the vulnerable by the start of next week, amounting to almost 15 million people.

On Friday Matt Hancock confirmed plans to vaccinate all over-50s in the country by May.

The minister for health said: “My plan is that we should be able to offer a vaccine to everybody in categories one to nine – that’s all the over-50s – by May.

Watch: UK closes in on 11million vaccines

“Lots of things have got to go right to hit that goal, especially supply, which is the rate-limiting factor.

“But I’m sure, working with the NHS and everybody else who is making this happen, that if we keep going at the pace we can, then we can make sure all the over-50s get the offer of a vaccine by May.”

Britain was the first country to approve vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca, enabling it to make an early start on a mass vaccination programme.

It also struck supply deals with manufacturers early in the development of the vaccines, helping it avoid some of the supply shortages that are hampering European programmes.