The gap between vaccines administered in rich countries and those dispensed through the COVAX program is growing and becoming "more grotesque" every day, the World Health Organization chief said Monday, describing this as "self-defeating."
At a webinar on COVID-19 in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said countries vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease do so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people, and other at-risk groups in other countries.
"The world's poorest countries wonder whether rich countries mean what they say when they talk about solidarity," said Tedros.
He added: "The inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just moral outrage. It's also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating."
The WHO-led COVAX program aims to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring fair and equitable vaccine allocation.
Tedros said Friday that more than 411 million doses of vaccine had been administered globally, but 76% of those doses are in just 10 countries.
Some countries are racing to vaccinate their entire populations, while other countries have nothing, he said Monday.
"These may buy short-term security, but it is a false sense of security," he said.
"The more transmission, the more variants, and the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines."
"We have to increase" vaccine production "as soon as possible," Tedros said.
"If countries won't share vaccines for the right reasons, we appeal to them to do it out of self-interest," said the WHO chief.
He said some countries have set "a great example," such as South Korea, that despite being a high-income country that could easily afford to buy vaccines through bilateral deals, has waited its turn for vaccines through COVAX.