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United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has called for $8bn in funds to ensure that COVID-19 vaccinations can be fairly distributed across the world and give all countries a way out of a pandemic that has killed more than five million people.
Speaking at an event with the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch a new global vaccination strategy, Guterres said on Thursday the inequitable distribution of jabs was dangerous because it could give rise to new variants and lead to more deaths.
The UN secretary-general urged G20 leaders who are due to meet later this month to deliver on their “desire to get the world vaccinated”.
“Vaccine inequality is the best ally of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Guterres said, as he appealed for wealthy nations who have so far received most of the world’s vaccines to step up.
“It is allowing variants to develop and run wild, condemning the world to millions more deaths, and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars.”
The new WHO strategy aims to ensure 40 percent of people in all countries are vaccinated by the end of this year, and 70 percent of people by the middle of 2022. It comes as many richer countries are considering “booster” shots for those already immunised.
“Science has played its part by delivering powerful, life-saving tools faster than for any outbreak in history,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“But the concentration of those tools in the hands of a few countries and companies has led to a global catastrophe, with the rich protected while the poor remain exposed to a deadly virus. We can still achieve the targets for this year and next, but it will take a level of political commitment, action and cooperation, beyond what we have seen to date.”
Guterres noted that the “plethora” of initiatives so far had failed to get the world “anywhere close” to the initial benchmark of 10 percent vaccination in all countries by the end of September.
“Not to have equitable distribution of vaccines is not only a question of being immoral – it is also a question of being stupid,” he said at a news conference after the launch.
The WHO says more than 6.4 billion doses of vaccine have been administered around the world, with nearly a third of the global population fully vaccinated.
But high and middle-income countries have used three-quarters of the doses produced so far, according to the UN’s health agency.
Noting a “horrific inequity”, the WHO’s Ghebreyesus said low-income countries had received less than half of one percent of the world’s vaccines and in Africa, less than 5 percent of people were fully vaccinated.
Meeting the new targets would need a total of 11 billion doses, he said.
“This is not a supply problem; it’s an allocation problem,” Ghebreyesus stressed, as he reiterated the need for pharmaceutical companies and rich-world governments to step up assistance and deliver on promises to COVAX, the UN-backed global vaccine sharing scheme, and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, or AVAT.
Global vaccine production is currently running at nearly 1.5 billion doses a month, according to the WHO.
“This is a costed, coordinated and credible path out of the COVID-19 pandemic for everyone, everywhere,” Guterres said.