WHO urges COVID-19 vaccine access as Western countries dump expired doses
An exterior view of the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, March 30, 2021. /Xinhua
An exterior view of the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, March 30, 2021. /Xinhua

An exterior view of the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, March 30, 2021. /Xinhua

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a threat to global public health, the World Health Organization (WHO) last month called for the momentum for vaccination to be maintained to better cover high-priority groups.

The vaccine uptake in low- and middle-income countries is still insufficient, which became a concern about the ongoing risk, according to the WHO.

In an article published in the Sunday Mirror, a British newspaper, in 2021, WHO Ambassador for Global Health Financing Gordon Brown said the West's stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines is growing by the day but at that time many poorer parts of the world were missing out.

"We must act now," wrote the former British prime minister. 

The situation looks likely to remain the same in 2023, however, as a study published in August 2022 in the British journal Communications Medicine found most people in the world's poorest countries may not have access to COVID-19 vaccines until at least the middle of this year. 

According to a report by last October, Canada destroyed nearly 14 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses in early 2022. Switzerland was also reported to have destroyed more than 14 million doses of vaccines, which was more than four times the doses it donated to low-income countries.

Yet, worsening the global accessibility of vaccines, some low-income countries had to turn down the offer of vaccine doses that were due to expire soon or had to destroy such doses.

In May 2021, Malawi destroyed nearly 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, which arrived in the country at the end of March but would due to expire on April 13.

Graphics designed by CGTN
Graphics designed by CGTN

Graphics designed by CGTN

Empty promises

The world has been struggling to tackle the problem of unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between rich and lower-income countries. Yet, years after the outbreak of the pandemic, promises made by many rich countries have yet to be delivered.

"No one is safe until everyone is safe," said Seth Berkley, CEO of the global vaccine alliance Gavi.

According to figures from Our World in Data, as early as two years ago, developed countries had already acquired enough doses to vaccinate their population with more than one shot for each. But even now, many Western developed countries have not yet fulfilled their promises to deliver vaccines to low-income countries.

There are currently nearly 400 million doses of donated vaccines announced by the U.S. which have not been delivered, according to the data. For the UK and Switzerland, the numbers are 41 million and 6.2 million, respectively.

Commenting on the low vaccination rates in low-income countries, Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, told Xinhua in an earlier interview that "the delay in vaccines getting to them has really been intolerable."

Last month at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos, Switzerland, Hatchett urged countries and manufacturers to prioritize vaccine supply to the global program COVAX.

Immunity gap

The obvious gap between immunity in rich and poorer countries has drawn the attention of many experts. Many have warned that the longer the unequal vaccine distribution exists, the wider COVID-19 spreads, and new variants are more likely to emerge.

Extremely unequal vaccine distribution has typified the availability of vaccines across countries, according to a study published in August 2022 in the British journal Communications Medicine. "In an unequal world with open economies, pandemics do not stop at national borders," it stressed.

Since about 85 percent of the global population resides in low- and middle-income countries, most of humanity remains exposed to continued outbreaks, the study said, adding that this situation increases the risk that further virus variants will emerge, possibly undermining the efficacy of existing vaccines.

"We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world's population, not just the wealthy parts," said Berkley.

As long as large portions of the world's population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged, he said.

Read More:

Inequitable vaccine distribution will hurt all countries amid variant spread

(With input from Xinhua)

Search Trends