UNICEF joins list of voices urging wealthy nations to ensure fairer distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

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By Wednesday last week, around five million people in Europe had received the AstraZeneca vaccine. /VCG
The World Health Organization warned Monday against a widening gap between numbers of coronavirus vaccines in wealthy countries and those distributed to poorer nations through the global Covax initiative. /VCG

UNICEF, the UN’s children’s agency on Monday urged wealthier countries to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, adding that $510 million is needed to support delivery around the world.

“We need help”, UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore said during a virtual conference hosted by the United Arab Emirates to address global immunization.

“We need vaccine manufacturers to prioritize COVAX and work to secure regulatory approval for fast, fair and affordable distribution. We need wealthier nations to donate extra doses through COVAX.”

The COVAX initiative was expected to deliver some 238 million doses around the world by the end of May but has so far shipped only a little more than 32 million doses.

The scheme is co-led by the WHO, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The novel coronavirus has killed nearly 2.8 million people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019.

UNICEF’s plea echoed similar sentiments from the World Health Organization, which has repeatedly warned against a widening gap between numbers of coronavirus vaccines in wealthy countries and those distributed to poorer nations through the global Covax initiative.

“The gap between the number of vaccines administered in rich countries, and the number of vaccines administered through Covax is growing every single day,” UN health agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“The unequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage, it’s also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating,” Ghebreyesus added.

“As long as the virus continues to circulate anywhere, people will continue to die, trade and travel will continue to be disrupted, and the economic recovery will be further delayed.”

It follows criticism by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of nations creating a “stockpile” of COVID-19 vaccines, calling on them to share to help end the pandemic.

Health officials have rolled out more than 510 million coronavirus vaccine doses around the world.

Ghebreyesus had called for all countries to begin vaccinating within the first 100 days of the year, but as that deadline nears, 36 countries are still to receive a single dose.

Sixteen of those are scheduled to receive their first doses through COVAX within the next two weeks, but the other 20 countries are expected to miss out.

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