The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday urged some countries to reconsider vaccinating their children and adolescents, calling on them to donate vaccines to COVAX for equitable distribution to low income countries.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, made the appeal at a news conference on COVID-19 at the UN health agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
The U.S. had on Thursday started vaccinating adolescents from ages 12 to 15.
Vaccinating younger ages is considered an important step for getting children back into schools safely.
U.S. President Joe Biden has asked states to make the vaccine available to younger adolescents immediately.
The director-general, however, said a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the vaccine supply, lower risk groups had been 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.
“Because in low and lower-middle income countries, vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunise health and care workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently.
“At present, only 0.3 per cent of vaccine supply is going to low-income countries; trickle down vaccination is not an effective strategy for fighting a deadly respiratory virus,’’ he said.
Ghebreyesus said that India remained a source of concern, with several states continuing to see a worrying number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
“WHO is responding and has shipped thousands of oxygen concentrators, tents for mobile field hospitals, masks and other medical supplies. And we thank all the stakeholders who are supporting India.
“But it is not only India that has emergency needs.
“Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Egypt are just some of the countries that are dealing with spikes in cases and hospitalisations,’’ he said.
According to him, some countries in the Americas still have high numbers of cases and as a region, the Americas accounted for 40 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths last week.
“There are also spikes in some countries in Africa.
“These countries are in heightened response mode and WHO will continue to provide support in all ways possible.
“COVID-19 has already cost more than 3.3 million lives and we’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first.
“Saving lives and livelihoods with a combination of public health measures and vaccination – not one or the other – is the only way out of the pandemic.’’
Ghebreyesus said vaccine supply remained a key challenge, but this week I have been pleased to see leaders and manufacturers working to address some of these issues.
First, he said there have been a number of new country announcements about sharing vaccines with COVAX, which is the fastest way to ensure equitable rollout of vaccines.
“Second, new deals involving tech-transfer and sharing of know-how between international manufacturers to scale up vaccine production have been announced.
“And third, leaders including the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, have called for all trade barriers to be lifted as soon as possible,’’ the director-general said.
In addition, he said WHO had again convened researchers and scientists from around the world to update the Research and Innovation Roadmap to take stock of what we’ve learned and identify the most pressing knowledge gaps.
The director-general said it was amazing how far the world had come in less than 18 months, saying,“ I have high hopes that breakthrough innovation will continue at record pace.