MANILA—Calling for more donations of the COVID-19 vaccine from high-income countries, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Monday that the disparity in access to vaccines among countries could lead to the emergence of a variant of the coronavirus that defies the effectivity of the vaccines.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed frustration at the huge gap of vaccination programs between rich and poor nations, which has created what he called a “two-track pandemic,” with some countries already opening up and others still facing dangerous transmission levels.
“The inequitable distribution of vaccines has allowed the virus to continue spreading, increasing the chances of a variant emerging that renders vaccines less effective,” he said during a press conference from Geneva.
Tedros said since the first COVID-19 jabs were given in the United Kingdom in December 2020, high-income countries have administered almost 44% of global doses, but low-income countries have only given less than half of a percent or 0.4%.
“The most frustrating thing about this statistic is that it hasn’t changed in months. Inequitable vaccination is a threat to all nations, not just those with the fewest vaccines,” he said.
Tedros called on the G7 countries meeting this weekend to commit to sharing vaccines by June and July to help achieve the WHO’s target of vaccinating 10 percent of the world’s population by September.
The body is calling for 100 million doses in June and July plus an added 250 million doses by September.
The G7 is made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States.
Meanwhile, Tedros said public health measures should be eased “cautiously” in countries seeing a decline in deaths due to increased access to vaccines.
“With the increased global transmission of variants of concern, including the delta variant, lifting restrictions too quickly could be disastrous for those who are not vaccinated,” he said.
However, he added “tailored” measures remain the “best way” to reduce infections in many other nations that do not have enough vaccines.
Epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said public health measures still need to be carried out amid the vaccination drive, noting that it would take time for vaccines to reach their expected effect.
“We are seeing these worrying trends of increased transmissibility, increased social mixing, relaxing of public health and social measures and uneven and inequitable vaccine distribution around the world,” she said.
“Those four factors are a really dangerous combination around the world.”
The WHO reported a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases worldwide for 6 weeks in a row, and a reduction in deaths for the past 5 weeks.
However, the world health body also noted an increase in COVD-19 deaths during the first week of June in its Africa, Americas, and Western Pacific regions.
The Philippines, which has listed over 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 22,000 deaths, is part of the WHO’s Western Pacific region, along with China, Japan, and Australia.