WHO seeks 10 million coronavirus vaccine doses 'immediately' for last nations
The UN health agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a rush to secure vaccines had delayed deliveries that Covax, the scheme for getting jabs to poorer nations, had been counting on.
"Bilateral deals, export bans, vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy have caused distortions in the market, with gross inequities in supply and demand," he told reporters.
Tedros urged those countries that could do so to donate spare doses to the Covax facility.
The WHO director-general had called for all countries in the world to begin vaccinating within the first 100 days of the year, but said that with 15 days left, 36 countries had still yet to receive a single dose.
Sixteen of those are scheduled to receive their first doses through Covax within the next two weeks, he said, adding that the other 20 countries were still likely to miss out.
However, reaching the 100-day goal was still possible, Tedros said.
"Covax needs 10 million doses immediately as an urgent stop-gap measure so these 20 countries can start vaccinating their health workers and older people within the next two weeks," he said.
Addressing countries with doses of vaccines that have received WHO's emergency-use listing authorisation -- meaning they can be used by Covax -- he asked that they "donate as many doses as they can to help us meet that target".
"Ten million doses is not much and it is not nearly enough, but it is a start," he said.
Bruce Aylward, the WHO lead on Covax, recalled that many countries had contracted "a large number of doses that go beyond the needs for their own countries.
"What we are hoping... is that they will be able to start discussing sharing larger numbers of doses through Covax to be able to vaccinate populations everywhere.”
In addition to doses, Covax is also urgently seeking some $2.3 billion to be able to procure and close the deals it has already struck with vaccine manufacturers.
The Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme is aimed at ensuring that 92 of the poorest countries in the world can access vaccines, with the cost covered by donors.
The scheme intends to distribute enough doses to vaccinate up to 27 percent of their populations by the end of the year.
India licensing delay 'understandable'
It was supposed to deliver some 238 million doses by the end of May, with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine produced in India and South Korea accounting for nearly all of them.
However, Covax facility co-leader Gavi said Thursday that New Delhi was holding up export licences from the Serum Institute of India (SII), where the vaccine is made, amid an increase in domestic demand as cases in the vast country rise.
As a result, Covax shipments planned for the rest of March and April have been delayed.
Tedros came to India's defence on Friday, insisting: "It is not an export ban."
"The number of cases in India is on the increase, so they need more vaccines to use locally," he said, stressing that "that's understandable".
He said the WHO was in talks with India to ensure "a balance so they can use locally, (and) at the same time continue to provide other countries vaccines from the SII."
The concerns around vaccine shortages have been heightened by the fact that Covid-19 cases around the world have been on the rise again for weeks, as new, more contagious variants spread.
"We are seeing signs of increasing transmission around the world," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead on Covid-19, told reporters.
"We are still in the acute phase of the pandemic."