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A vaccination centre in Ivory Coast A vaccination centre in Ivory Coast  (ANSA)

WHO warns vaccine inequality will prolong Covid-19 pandemic

A senior leader at the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that the Covid-19 pandemic will "go on for a year longer than it needs to" and drag deep into 2022 because poorer countries are not getting the vaccines they need.

By Francesca Merlo

Poorer counties are not getting the vaccines they need to prevent the spread of Covid-19, according to the WHO. This issue, first brought to light at the very start of the global vaccination programme, has still not been resolved. The World Health Organisation on Thursday warned that it is because of this that “the Covid pandemic will go on for a year longer than it needs to”.

WHO's target

The vast majority of Covid vaccines overall have been used in high-income or upper-middle-income countries.

As of 1 October, more than 50 countries had still not reached the WHO’s target for 10% of their populations to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 by the end of September.

Most of these countries are in Africa, where, according to the WHO, only 4.4% of people are fully vaccinated.  

In the UK, nearly 66% of the whole population has been fully vaccinated; while about 62% of the EU and 55% of the US population is now vaccinated.

The majority of the countries that have not reached the WHO’s target are low-income countries. Of these, some suffer from conflict, such as Yemen, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Others, such as Haiti, are dealing with the consequences of being hit by natural disasters.

Vaccine distribution across Africa

In Africa, only 15 out of 54 countries have achieved the 10% target. Half of the countries on the continent have vaccinated less than 2% of their population.

Some larger countries with big populations have fallen far short of this target. Egypt only has about 5% of its population fully vaccinated, with Ethiopia and Nigeria each less than 3%.

Two countries on the continent - Burundi and Eritrea - have yet to roll out vaccination programmes.

Pope Francis' appeal

Addressing the IV Meeting of Popular Movements in a video message on 16 October, Pope Francis noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed social inequalities and “the heart-breaking situation of so many brothers and sisters.”

“In the name of God”, the Pope said, “I want to ask all the big laboratories to liberalise patents. Carry out a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccine. There are countries where only three, four percent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated”.

COVAX

The original idea behind COVAX was that all countries would be able to acquire vaccines from its pool, including wealthy ones. COVAX is run by a number of international organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN children's charity, Unicef.

Appeal to wealthier nations

Dr Aylward, a senior in the WHO appealed to wealthy countries to give up their places in the queue for vaccines in order that pharmaceutical companies can prioritise the lowest-income countries instead.

He said wealthy countries needed to "stocktake" where they were with their donation commitments made at summits such as the G7 meeting in St Ives this summer.

"I can tell you we're not on track," he said. "We really need to speed it up or you know what? This pandemic is going to go on for a year longer than it needs to."

21 October 2021, 16:11