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Vaccine greed among rich nations likely to make Covid-19 more lethal this year: WHO Chief

Vaccination and public health measures will go together in curbing the pandemic says the WHO chief (Photo: IANS)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a grim warning for 2021 saying that the Covid-19 pandemic will be deadlier than that of 2020, especially on account of vaccine greed among rich nations.

At a press conference on Friday, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "We're on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first. In January, I spoke about the potential unfolding of a moral catastrophe. Unfortunately, we're now witnessing this play out. In a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the supply, lower-risk groups are now being vaccinated."

The WHO chief's warning has come at a time when India is in the grip of its most devastating period of the pandemic and Japan has extended the state of emergency casting a shadow on the Olympics.  

Ghebreyesus added: "Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Egypt are just some of the countries that are dealing with spikes in cases and hospitalisations". He also pointed out that some countries in the Americas have high Covid-19 numbers and the region as a whole had almost 40 per cent of coronavirus deaths last week.

The WHO director general said that the deadly pandemic has already taken more than 3.3 million lives globally. The virus had emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and spread fast across the world.

About India, Ghebreyesus said that WHO is responding to the Covid crisis by shipping thousands of oxygen concentrators, tents for mobile field hospitals, masks and other supplies. "India remains hugely concerning, with several states continuing to see a worrying number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths. And we thank all the stakeholders who are supporting India," Ghebreyesus said.

He added that saving the world from the pandemic involves both public health measures along with vaccination. In a tweet, Ghebreyesus said: "Vaccine supply remains a key challenge", and added that he was pleased to see leaders and manufacturers working to share doses with COVAX, make new deals involving tech-transfer and sharing of know-how as well as give a call for lifting trade barriers. He ended his tweet with the hash tag "ACTogether".

He appealed to the rich nations to stop vaccinating children so that the vulnerable in the poorer countries could be protected. "… because in low and lower-middle income countries, vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunise healthcare workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently", Ghebreyesus said, reinforcing what the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had said earlier this week.

Guterres had said that countries will have to double the manufacture of vaccine doses, and "have a more equitable distribution of vaccines". He also appealed to the rich nations to share their doses with the poor nations so that "everybody is vaccinated everywhere".

There is global pressure on Western countries to ease regulations over vaccines. India and South Africa had appealed to the World Trade Organisation last year to waive intellectual property rights for vaccines related to Covid-19. Now the resolution has found support from over a hundred nations as well as international organisations.