Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has urged governments, vaccine developers and the world to “step up their game” to fight vaccine inequity after the richest countries snatched up most COVID-19 vaccine doses and those in poorer nations have gone lacking.
Her comments on Monday came as the World Health Organization announced 5.2 million new confirmed virus cases during the latest week, the largest weekly count yet, according to the UN health agency.
The Swedish teen who inspired the “Fridays for Future” climate change movement chipped in 100,000 euros ($120,000) from her charitable foundation to the WHO Foundation to help buy COVID-19 vaccines for countries where they are needed – especially in poor countries.
“It is completely unethical that high-income countries are now vaccinating young and healthy people if that happens at the expense of people in risk groups and on the front lines in low- and middle-income countries,” said Thunberg, who was invited as a guest for a WHO briefing.
While Thunberg hailed the development of COVID-19 vaccines in “record time,” she cited estimates that one in four people in high-income countries have received them so far, while only one in 500 in middle- and lower-income countries have.
About 1 in 4 people in high-income countries have received a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with just 1 in more than 500 in low-income countries.
My foundation will donate €100000 to support COVAX to ensure a more equitable global COVID-19 vaccine distribution. #VaccineEquity pic.twitter.com/JKxZC4s8F7
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) April 19, 2021
“The international community, governments and vaccine developers must step up their game and address the tragedy that is vaccine inequity,” she said.
“Just with the climate crisis, those who are the most vulnerable need to be prioritised and global problems require global solutions.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said new COVID-19 cases rose for an eighth straight week around the globe and deaths have risen for a fifth straight week.
“We have the tools to bring this pandemic under control in a matter of months, if we apply them consistently and equitably,” he said.
However, he also expressed concern about the “alarming rate” at which COVID-19 is spreading in those aged 25-59 worldwide, possibly due to much more contagious variants.
“It took nine months to reach one million deaths; four months to reach two million, and three months to reach three million.”
The global death toll from COVID-19 passed three million last week and more than 141 million have been infected, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, but experts have said both numbers understate the true toll of the pandemic.
Thunberg drew a direct link between the pandemic and the environmental destruction that she said made it much easier for dangerous viruses to leap from animal populations to humans.
“Science shows we will experience more frequent, devastating pandemics unless we drastically change our ways and the ways we treat nature … We are creating ideal conditions for diseases to spill over from one animal to another and to us,” she said.
A leading WHO epidemiologist, Maria van Kerkhove, told the same briefing that the latest surge in COVID-19 infections worldwide included increases among age groups previously less affected by the pandemic.
“We are seeing increased rates of transmission across all age groups,” she said. “We are seeing a slight age shift in some countries, driven by social mixing,” she added.