The World Health Organization urged rich countries on Friday (14 May) to reconsider plans to vaccinate children and instead donate COVID-19 shots to the COVAX scheme that shares them with poorer nations.
The WHO is hoping more countries will follow France and Sweden in donating shots to COVAX after inoculating their priority populations to help address a gulf in vaccination rates.
Canada and the United States are among countries that have authorised vaccines for use in adolescents in recent weeks. However, a WHO official said talks with Washington on sharing doses were under way.
“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to #COVAX,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual meeting in Geneva.
COVAX, which has delivered around 60 million doses so far, has struggled to meet supply targets partly because of Indian export restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine due to its growing epidemic.
So far, around 1.26 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered globally.
Tedros also said the second year of the pandemic was set to be more deadly than the first, with India a huge concern.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of the coronavirus through India’s vast countryside on Friday, as the country’s official tally of infections crossed 24 million and over 4,000 people died for the third straight day.
More than 160.71 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and nearly 3.5 million have died, according to a Reuters tally.
Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.
WHO officials urged caution in lifting measures that contain transmission, such as mask wearing, and warned that more variants were bound to be detected.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks outdoors and could avoid wearing them indoors in most places.
“Very few countries are at the point where they can drop these measures,” said Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan.
UNICEF steps in
Countries belonging to the G7 and the European Union can afford to donate more than 150 million vaccines to countries in need without compromising their own goals, UNICEF said Monday.
The world’s seven richest states and the EU could help close the world’s vaccine gap by sharing just 20 percent of their June, July and August stocks with the Covax jab scheme for poorer nations, a study by British firm Airfinity showed.
“And they could do this while still fulfilling their vaccination commitments to their own populations,” UNICEF director Henrietta Fore said.
The UK is due to host its fellow G7 member states Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US for a summit in June.
By that time UNICEF said the Covax programme being co-led by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will find itself 190 million doses short of what it had planned to distribute.
With additional shortages in supplies and funding, the statement called for swift action until more sustainable production models are within reach.
“Sharing immediately available excess doses is a minimum, essential and emergency stop-gap measure, and it is needed right now,” it read.
The US has 60 million AstraZeneca doses it could share, while France has pledged 500,000 doses and Sweden 1 million, with Switzerland considering a similar donation.
Some 44% of the 1.4 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines so far injected around the world have been administered in high-income countries accounting for 16% of the global population.
Just 0.3% have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries, home to nine percent of the world’s population.
“We are concerned that the deadly spike in India is a precursor to what will happen if those warnings remain unheeded,” says UNICEF.
“Cases are exploding and health systems are struggling in countries near — like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives — and far, like Argentina and Brazil.”