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WHO criticizes wealthy nations for hoarding Covid treatments and vaccines, saying it’s prolonging pandemic

Vials of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson via Reuters

The World Health Organization condemned wealthy nations for stockpiling coronavirus vaccines, treatments and protective equipment, adding their failure to fairly distribute those resources is fueling Covid outbreaks worldwide.  

The criticism from two of the WHO’s top epidemiologists came during a Q&A streamed Tuesday on the organization’s social media channels. The WHO has been vocal about global inequities in Covid vaccinations since the immunization rollout began last winter, ramping up its calls for fairer distribution of inoculations in low-income countries as several developed nations have already immunized a majority of their populations and recently started administering booster doses.

“This is not just unfair, it’s not just immoral, it’s prolonging the pandemic,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid. “And it is resulting in people dying.”

The WHO previously asked wealthy nations on Aug. 4 to stop distributing Covid boosters for at least two months, requesting they reroute their surpluses to poorer countries in hopes of vaccinating 10% of the population of every country by the end of September. The organization has also set a December deadline for vaccinating 40% of the world’s population.

The U.S., which has fully immunized 53% of its population, has already given booster shots to more than 1.3 million people. The European Union has fully inoculated 57% of its population and is administering booster doses in France and the U.K., according to the United Nations.

Africa, by comparison, has fully vaccinated just 3% of its population against Covid and 26 countries on the continent have distributed less than half of their total vaccines, the WHO said Thursday.

Given the current pace of vaccinations, the WHO said almost 80% of Africa’s countries will be unable to vaccinate the 10% of their populations most susceptible to severe Covid symptoms by the end of the month.

In the U.S., where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 62% of the population has received at least one Covid vaccine dose, the distribution of Pfizer booster doses could start as soon as Sept. 20. The White House says President Joe Biden has donated more than 110 million vaccines out of the 500 million doses he pledged in June to almost 100 developing nations.

But the WHO said the industrialized world has fallen short on delivering enough vaccines, treatments, and protective gear to fully quell the virus.

“The rhetoric is fine, it’s all about sharing, it’s all about fairness,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s health emergencies program. “But in reality, when push comes to shove, these products are available, they are hoarded in countries, and they’re not shared.”

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