The World Health Organization told wealthier nations Friday to consider donating COVID-19 vaccines to global-sharing programs instead of vaccinating younger persons at low risk of developing severe disease.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said only 0.3% of vaccine supply is going to low-income countries, even as new variants pop up across the globe, and that “trickle-down vaccination is not an effective strategy for fighting a deadly respiratory virus.”
“In a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the vaccine supply, lower-risk groups are now being vaccinated. 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,” Dr. Tedros said, referring to the main vaccine-sharing alliance. “Because in low- and lower-middle-income countries, vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunize health and care workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently.”
Dr. Tedros did not mention countries by name but the U.S. and other western nations have purchased enough doses to more than cover their eligible populations and are moving into younger age groups after taking care of front-line workers and seniors.
With demand slowing, the Biden administration is under pressure to share more of America’s largesse with poorer nations.
WHO cheered the White House’s support for waiving patent rights to share vaccine know-how with other countries, though the idea got a tepid reception in Europe and congressional Republicans said the administration should focus on donations to avoid stifling future innovation.
While trade negotiators figure out a plan, the U.S. hopes to donate up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which hasn’t been approved for domestic use. Regulators are still running checks on the shots before exporting them.
Dr. Tedros said besides the patent idea, he is pleased with recent countries that announced vaccine-sharing plans through COVAX.
“And third, leaders including the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, have called for all trade barriers to be lifted as soon as possible. Muchas gracias,” he said.