It is a travesty that some countries still have not had enough access to vaccines to begin inoculating health workers and the most vulnerable people against COVID-19, the head of the World Health Organization has said.
“Scaling up production and equitable distribution remains the major barrier to ending the acute stage of the COVID-19 pandemic,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Tuesday.
“It’s a travesty that in some countries health workers and those at-risk groups remain completely unvaccinated.”
The president of Namibia, Hage Geingob, one of several world leaders invited to address the WHO news conference for World Health Day, decried “vaccine apartheid”, under which some countries were forced to wait while others received doses.
Geingob said Namibia had received vaccines from “our friends” India and China, but was still waiting for other vaccines despite having paid a deposit for them.
Tedros said Namibia would receive some vaccines from the UN-backed COVAX programme in around two weeks.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson said on Tuesday that the WHO does not back requiring vaccination passports for travel due to uncertainty over whether inoculation prevents transmission of the virus, as well as equity concerns.
“We as WHO are saying at this stage we would not like to see the vaccination passport as a requirement for entry or exit because we are not certain at this stage that the vaccine prevents transmission,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said.
“There are all those other questions, apart from the question of discrimination against the people who are not able to have the vaccine for one reason or another,” she told a UN news briefing.
The WHO now expects to review China’s COVID-19 vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac for possible emergency use listing around the end of April, Harris said.
“It’s not coming as quickly as we had hoped because we need more data,” she said, declining to provide more information, citing confidentiality.
Tedros appealed last month to countries with excess vaccine supplies to donate 10 million doses urgently to the COVAX facility which it runs with the GAVI vaccine alliance.
Export restrictions by India left the vaccine-sharing programme short of supplies of AstraZeneca’s vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India.
Harris said she had no update on any countries stepping forward, adding: “We are very much looking for more vaccine”.