Vials containing the Janssen Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson via Reuters
The World Health Organization condemned wealthy nations for stockpiling coronavirus vaccines, treatments and protective equipment.
Criticism from two of WHO’s top epidemiologists came during a Q&A streamed Tuesday on the organization’s social media channels. The WHO has been vocal about global inequalities in Covid vaccination since vaccination began last winter and has increased its calls for a fairer distribution of vaccinations in low-income countries, as several developed nations have already vaccinated much of their populations and recently started giving booster doses.
“This is not only unfair, it is not only immoral, it is prolonging the pandemic,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical director for Covid. “And it leads to people dying.”
Previously, on August 4, the WHO urged wealthy nations to stop distributing Covid boosters for at least two months and urged them to divert their surpluses to poorer countries in hopes of 10% of each country’s population by the end of September vaccinate. The organization has also set a December deadline for vaccinating 40% of the world’s population.
The US, which fully vaccinated 53% of its population, has already given a booster vaccination to more than 1.3 million people. The European Union has fully vaccinated 57% of its population and is giving booster doses in France and the UK, according to the United Nations.
By comparison, Africa has only fully vaccinated 3% of its population against Covid and 26 countries on the continent have distributed less than half of their total vaccines, the WHO said on Thursday.
Given the current vaccination pace, WHO said nearly 80% of African countries will not be able to vaccinate the 10% of their populations most susceptible to severe Covid symptoms by the end of the month.
In the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 62% of the population received at least one Covid vaccine dose, Pfizer booster distribution could begin as early as September 20. The White House says President Joe Biden has donated more than 110 million vaccines to nearly 100 developing countries of the 500 million doses he pledged in June.
But WHO said the industrialized world had not supplied enough vaccines, treatments and protective equipment to completely suppress the virus.
“The rhetoric is fine, it’s about sharing, it’s about fairness,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO Director of Emergency Health Programs. “But in reality these products are available, are being hoarded in countries and not shared.”