Faced with COVID-19, wealthy countries must avoid repeating past mistakes of hoarding medicines and vaccines, the World Health Organization said Friday, warning such behavior would only drag out the pandemic.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus decried the skirmish in wealthy countries to secure large amounts of various vaccines against the coronavirus while few doses have yet to reach poorer nations.
"The pandemic has exposed and exploited the inequalities of our world," he told journalists, warning that there now was "the real danger that the very tools that could help to end the pandemic -– vaccines –- may exacerbate those same inequalities."
"Vaccine nationalism might serve short-term political goals. But it’s ultimately short-sighted and self-defeating," he said.
The WHO co-leads the COVAX facility, which is working to procure vaccines and ensure doses are delivered equitably around the world.
The facility expects to begin delivering doses within a few weeks, and Tedros said the aim was for vaccination of health workers and older people to be underway in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021.
WHO has repeated ad nauseam that the only way to beat the pandemic and revive the global economy is to ensure that priority groups in every country are vaccinated.
Tedros urged the world to avoid repeating past mistakes, pointing to the HIV/AIDS crisis, where wealthy countries acquired life-saving medicines nearly a decade before they became affordable in poorer countries.
He also pointed to the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, when vaccines only reached poorer nations after the outbreak was over.
"I don't think that is a good history. It is bad history," he said.
'Very worrying trend'
The WHO chief cautioned that "if we hoard vaccines, and if we are not sharing... there will be a catastrophic moral failure."
But in addition, he warned, "it keeps the pandemic burning and...(will) slow global economic recovery."
"Is that what we want? It is our choice."
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said the battles unfolding between wealthy nations already rolling out vaccines was disconcerting considering health workers and at-risk populations elsewhere were likely to have a long wait in front of them.
"It looks like fighting over the cake when they don't even have access to the crumbs," he said.
The European Commission on Friday launched a scheme to monitor and in some cases bar exports of vaccines produced in EU plants, amid a row with British-Swedish drugs giant AstraZeneca.
WHO criticized the move.
"It is a very worrying trend," WHO assistant director-general Mariangela Simao told journalists.
She pointed out that in an interconnected world, any medicine or vaccine is made from elements from multiple countries.
"It is not helpful to have any country at this stage putting export bans or export barriers that will not allow for the free movement of the necessary ingredients that will make vaccines, diagnostics, and other medicines available to all the world," she said.