Vaccine inequity is the biggest obstacle to ending the global coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization chief said Thursday.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued his statement from Geneva along with data released by the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the University of Oxford.
It found that COVID-19 vaccine inequity will have a lasting and profound impact on socio-economic recovery in low- and lower-middle-income countries without urgent action to boost supply and assure equitable access for every country, including through dose-sharing.
"Vaccine inequity is the world's biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from COVID-19," said Tedros, who is in the Japanese capital to attend the Tokyo Olympics. "Economically, epidemiologically and morally, it is in all countries' best interest to use the latest available data to make lifesaving vaccines available to all."
Accelerated manufacturing and sharing enough vaccine doses with low-income countries could have added $38 billion to their GDP forecast for 2021 if they had similar vaccination rates as high-income countries, the group said.
At a time when richer countries have paid trillions in stimulus to prop up flagging economies, now is the time to ensure vaccine doses are shared quickly, it urged.
The group called for removing barriers to increase vaccine manufacturing and secure financing support so vaccines are distributed equitably for a truly global economic recovery to occur.
"In some low- and middle-income countries, less than 1% of the population is vaccinated – this is contributing to a two-track recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic," said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
He called for "swift, collective action."
Richer countries to recover quicker
New data from entities, including the IMF, World Bank, UNICEF, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance, show richer countries are projected to vaccinate quicker and recover economically quicker from COVID-19.
At the same time, poorer countries have not been able to vaccinate their health workers and most at-risk population and may not achieve pre-COVID-19 levels of growth until 2024.
"Meanwhile, Delta and other variants are driving some countries to reinstate strict public health social measures,” said the report.
"This is further worsening the social, economic and health impact, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized people.”
Steiner said the Global Dashboard for COVID-19 Vaccine Equity – an initiative by the UNDP, WHO, and the Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government – combines the latest COVID-19 vaccination information and socio-economic data.
It illustrates why accelerating vaccine equity is critical to saving lives and driving a faster and fairer recovery from the pandemic with benefits for all.
The groups also said a high price per coronavirus vaccine dose relative to other vaccines and delivery costs – including the health workforce surge – could place a massive strain on fragile health systems and undermine routine immunization and essential health services.