WHO calls distribution of Covid boosters a ‘scandal’ as poor nations struggle to get first shots


WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference after a ceremony for the opening of the WHO Academy, in Lyon, France, September 27, 2021.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters

The disparity between the global distribution of Covid-19 boosters and first shots to people in developing nations is a “scandal,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing Friday.

Inequitable vaccine distribution has hit Africa particularly hard, where just 6% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid, the WHO’s regional office for Africa reported as of Oct. 28. WHO officials have for weeks criticized the distribution of boosters to healthy adults, calling on high-income countries to reallocate their surplus doses to immunize health-care personnel, the elderly and other high-risk adults across poorer nations.

“Every day, there are six times more boosters administered globally than primary doses in low-income countries,” Tedros said. “This is a scandal that must stop now.”

WHO previously set a goal of vaccinating 40% of the population of every country by the end of the year, but over 100 countries are currently short of the target, WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said at the briefing. Swaminathan added that WHO would likely miss that goal unless COVAX, WHO’s initiative for providing Covid shots for at least 20% of countries’ populations, received approximately 500 million more doses to distribute.

Just five countries in Africa have vaccinated more than 35% of their populations, including Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritius, according to Our World in Data, which compiles vaccination figures from official public reports. But those reports also indicate that the majority of African nations have fully vaccinated less than 10% of their populations.

WHO officials are waging a war against Covid on two fronts as they seek solutions to global vaccine inequities while facing a surge that has raged across Europe in recent weeks. Europe saw nearly 2 million new Covid cases during the week ended Sunday, representing 63% of all cases throughout the WHO’s six regions of member states, according to the organization’s latest weekly epidemiological update.

Germany set a record-high seven-day average of more than 33,600 new Covid cases Thursday, an increase of 40% from a week ago. Though the weekly Covid case average in the U.K. fell more than 11% Thursday, the country still recorded an average of over 34,600 new Covid cases as well.

Seven-day average cases were up by 52% in France and 48% in Italy on Thursday. Russia also reported a weekly average of more than 1,170 new deaths Thursday, its highest-ever total since the start of the pandemic.

The coronavirus explosion in Europe is being driven by factors including decreased masking and social distancing and reduced public health and social measures, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid.

“In the Northern Hemisphere, we are entering the winter months. People will spend more time indoors,” Van Kerkhove said. “What we are saying to all countries right now is look at your situation, critically assess the situation that you’re in right now and make adjustments.”

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