WHO head denounces vaccine inequity as Covax sharing scheme marks first year

Covax aims to secure two billion doses by the end of 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (REUTERS) - Coronavirus vaccines remain out of reach in the poorest countries, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a report on Friday (April 23), marking the first anniversary of the Covax dose-sharing facility.

"Nearly 900 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 81 per cent have gone to high- or upper middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.3 per cent," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said about the ACT (Access to Covid-19 Tools) Accelerator set up a year ago.

Dr Tedros has repeatedly denounced inequities in vaccine distribution and urged wealthier countries to share excess doses to help inoculate health workers in low-income countries.

More than three million people have died in the pandemic.

Covax, which has shipped 40.5 million doses to 118 countries so far, aims to secure two billion doses by the end of 2021.

On Thursday, Covax, co-run by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and WHO, said it was seeking to bolster its supplies of vaccines for poor countries from new manufacturers as it aims to mitigate supply problems of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India, its main shot so far.

"Low-income countries test less than 5 per cent as much as high-income countries, and the majority of countries still have trouble accessing sufficient oxygen and dexamethasone," Dr Tedros said.

He was referring to an inexpensive steroid found to help patients with severe Covid-19, in the only WHO-approved treatment for the disease.

India reported the world's highest daily tally of coronavirus cases for a second day on Friday, surpassing 330,000 new cases, as it struggles with a health system overwhelmed by patients and plagued by accidents and lack of medical oxygen.

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