WHO: Vaccine Inequity ‘Demonstrates Disregard for the World’s Poorest’

The World Health Organization has written an open letter to the heads of state gathered in Rome for the G-20 meeting, urging them to increase vaccine supplies for the world’s poorest, ensure access to vaccines for all people on the move and support low- and middle-income countries in combating COVID-19 with all available means.

“The current vaccine equity gap between wealthier and low resource countries demonstrates a disregard for the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable,” the open letter said. “For every 100 people in high-income countries, 133 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, while in low-income countries, only 4 doses per 100 people have been administered.”

The WHO letter also warned, “Vaccine inequity is costing lives every day, and continues to place everyone at risk. History and science make it clear: coordinated action with equitable access to public health resources is the only way to face down a global public health scourge like COVID-19. We need a strong, collective push to save lives, reduce suffering and ensure a sustainable global recovery.”

Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, joined WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in signing another open letter to the G-20 leaders, urging them to make good on their promised vaccine donations to poor countries. “When the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations met at the G-7 Summit in June, they collectively announced that 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be sent to low- and low-and-middle-income countries to help vaccinate the world. Pharmaceutical companies have pledged almost the same.

“Yet, as several nations still don’t even have enough vaccines for their own health workers, the world is left asking: Where are the doses?” the letter said. “Of the almost 7 billion doses that have been administered globally, just 3% of people in low-income countries have had a jab so far. Where are the rest? … Promises aren’t translating into vaccines reaching the people that need them.”

British media has reported that Prime Minister Boris Johns is expected to announce at the G-20 summit that the U.K. will donate 20 million vaccine doses to low-income countries by the end of the year.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center said early Saturday that it has recorded more than 246 million global COVID infections and nearly 5 million global deaths. The center said nearly 7 billion vaccines have been administered.

Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children 5-11 years old.

The FDA approved doses for children that are one-third the amount that teens and adults receive.

“With this vaccine kids can go back to something that’s better than being locked at home on remote schooling, not being able to see their friends,” Dr. Kawsar Talaat of Johns Hopkins University said, according to The Associated Press. “The vaccine will protect them and also protect our communities.”

Tuesday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make detailed recommendations, and the CDC director will have the final say.

Approval by the regulatory agencies would make the vaccine available in the coming days to 28 million American children, many of whom are back in school for in-person learning. Only a few other countries, including China, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, have so far cleared COVID-19 vaccines for children in this age group and younger.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe on Friday called for schools to stay open, provided appropriate prevention and response measures are in place.

The recommendation comes after WHO reported the European region has now seen four consecutive weeks of growing COVID-19 transmission, the only WHO region to do so. The agency said Europe’s rising numbers accounted for 57% of new cases worldwide in the third week of October.

In a statement from the agency’s website, WHO/Europe says instead of closing educational institutions in response to this latest surge, it recommends a “whole-of-society approach” to reducing transmission through mitigation measures such as physical distancing, cleaning hands frequently, wearing masks and ensuring adequate ventilation.

The WHO regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, said, “Last year’s widespread school closures, disrupting the education of millions of children and adolescents, did more harm than good, especially to children’s mental and social well-being. We can’t repeat the same mistakes.”

Kluge said that in the coming months, decisions by governments and the public to reduce the impact of COVID-19 should be based on data and evidence, “with the understanding that the epidemiological situation can change, and that our behavior must change with it. Science must trump politics.”

The Pacific island of Tonga has recorded its first COVID infection. The fully vaccinated infected person arrived on the island Friday on a commercial flight from New Zealand.

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