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WHO says COVID-19 pandemic could ‘easily drag on deep into 2022’

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Failing to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries could cause the pandemic to drag into 2022, a senior World Health Organization official said.

The coronavirus has cost the lives of between 80,000 to 180,000 health care staff, according to the WHO, with just two in five health workers vaccinated globally.

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“Data from 119 countries suggest that on average, two in five healthcare workers globally are fully vaccinated,” WHO head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, criticizing the unfair distribution of jabs.

“But of course, that average masks huge differences across regions and economic groupings,” he added.

Less than one in 10 healthcare workers are vaccinated against the virus in Africa, Ghebreyesus said, a significant difference when put up against richer nations that account for eight in 10 workers.

In addition, the overall average vaccination rate in Africa is less than 5 percent, while other continents have an average rate of 40 percent.

Senior leader at the WHO Dr. Bruce Aylward believes that failing to provide vaccine shots to poorer countries would mean that the COVID-19 pandemic could “easily drag on deep into 2022.”

The vast majority of vaccines have been used in high or upper middle-income nations and Africa accounts for just 2.6 percent of doses administered globally, the BBC reported.

“I can tell you we’re not on track,” said Alyward. “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.”

He appealed to wealthy countries, urging them to give up their places in the queue for vaccine shots so that pharma companies could prioritize the lowest-income nations instead.

A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arrives in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday Feb. 25, 2021. (File photo: AP)
A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arrives in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday Feb. 25, 2021. (File photo: AP)

The WHO wants each country to have vaccinated 40 percent of its population by the end of the year, but Tedros said 82 countries were now at risk of missing that target, chiefly through insufficient supply.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 4.9 million people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, while nearly 242 million cases have been registered.

COVAX to send vaccine shots to least-covered nations

COVAX, a global scheme designed to ensure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines announced in early October that it will distribute shots only to countries with the lowest levels of coverage.

Co-led by the WHO, COVAX has since January largely allocated doses proportionally among its 140-plus beneficiary states according to population size.

This made some richer nations that had already secured vaccines through separate deals with pharmaceutical firms eligible for COVAX doses alongside countries with no supplies at all.

With some nations administering booster shots while others are still giving first jabs to the most vulnerable, the WHO has now tweaked the rules.

“For the October supply we designed a different methodology, only covering participants with low sources of supply,” Mariangela Simao, WHO Assistant Director General for Access to Vaccines, said in a recording of a conference presentation last week posted on the WHO’s website.

The change comes 15 months after the launch of the COVAX program and as Ghebreyesus seeks renomination.

With Reuters and AFP

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