The WHO warns of an uneven distribution of vaccines in order that Covid can flourish

Becky Board, General Manager of Covid Recovery, prepares to deliver the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in London to 90-year-old patient George Dyer at Croydon University Hospital at the start of the largest vaccination program in UK history on December 8, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.

Dan Charity | Getty Images

The coronavirus is mutating and doing everything it can to survive. It will continue to thrive unless there is a more equitable distribution of vaccines around the world, the head of the World Health Organization said on Friday.

There are 42 countries currently introducing their starting doses of Covid-19 vaccines and most of them are high income countries, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference in Geneva. Only six of these countries are considered low-income, while no low-income countries have started their vaccination programs, he said.

“There is a clear problem that low and middle income countries are not yet receiving the vaccine,” Tedros said.

The unjust use of life-saving drugs comes as the globe faces the deadliest part of the pandemic to date, the WHO warned. Covid-19 deaths have risen to record highs in the past few days as people violated public health recommendations in a number of countries, Tedros said.

Globally, more than 88.3 million people are infected with the coronavirus, and at least 1.9 million people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. For the first time since the pandemic began, the U.S. reported more than 4,000 deaths from Covid-19 in one day alone on Thursday.

There are also new and more contagious varieties of the virus, such as those identified in the UK and South Africa, that have led some countries to reinstate lockdown measures to control further spread.

Viruses are constantly mutating and are expected to develop over time as the peaks on their surfaces change, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A variant first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7, “emerged with an unusually large number of mutations” which made it easier and faster to spread.

Global health experts have said the changes won’t make the existing Covid-19 vaccines any less effective or cause more serious illness. While mutations are normal for any virus, including Covid-19, its rapid spread makes vaccinating the globe equally important, Tedros said. Otherwise, “let’s help it thrive,” he said.

“The current variants show that the virus is doing its best to better suit the ongoing cycle in the human population,” Tedros said.

A handful of nations, including the US, UK, Canada, members of the European Union and others, have supply agreements with companies like Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca claiming the first million doses of their vaccines upon approval.

COVAX, the global alliance aimed at providing coronavirus vaccines to poor nations and jointly led by WHO, has made its own agreements for at least 2 billion doses. Allianz has announced that it hopes to distribute these shots in the first quarter of this year when the drugs are approved.

However, some of the countries participating in COVAX are doing their own bilateral deals, which could raise the prices of the drugs, Tedros said.

“Vaccine nationalism hurts us all and is self-defeating,” said Tedros. “But on the flip side, vaccination fairly saves lives, stabilizes health systems and would lead to a truly global economic recovery that stimulates job creation.”

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