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WHO slams rich countries for hogging Covid-19 vaccines after WTO demanded UK hand over jabs

The World Health Organisation has blasted wealthy countries for hogging Covid vaccines days after the World Trade Organisation chief called on the UK to send jabs abroad.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said some rich countries’ direct deals with manufacturers has caused a reduction in doses for poorer countries.

The chief said the money was there to procure doses for some of the poorest countries, following fresh contributions from the US, the European Union and Germany – but it was worthless if there was nothing to buy.

Tedros urged wealthy nations to start checking first as to whether their own deals with pharmaceutical companies were undermining Covax, the global vaccine scheme which poorer countries are relying on as they await their first doses.

‘Even if you have the money, if you cannot use the money to buy vaccines, having the money doesn’t mean anything,’ he told a virtual press conference with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. 

The ONE Campaign, a global organisation co-founded by U2 singer Bono, said last week that members of the Group of Seven top industrialised nations along with the rest of the EU plus Australia had collectively bought nearly 1.25billion more doses than they needed to inoculate every member of their populations against Covid-19.

‘Some high-income countries are actually approaching manufacturers to secure more vaccines, which is affecting the deals with Covax – and even the amount that was allocated for Covax was reduced because of this,’ Tedros said.

WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (pictured) says the UK and other wealthy nations should send Covid vaccines to poorer countries now rather than wait for a surplus

‘We can only have vaccines delivered to the countries who are members of Covax if the high-income countries cooperate in respecting the deals that Covax did.’

The first wave of Covax vaccines are to be shipped out between late February and the end of June.

Some 145 participating economies are set to receive 337million doses – enough to vaccinate a little over three percent of their combined populations.

Covax has said it hopes to raise the figure to up to 27 per cent in lower-income countries by the end of December.

It comes after the new WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said it was ‘in the interest’ of richer countries like the UK to donate vaccines to poorer countries now.

Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, the US and the EU have purchased more than 3billion doses of the vaccine. This leaves a surplus of 1.2billion

The new director-general is both the first African and the first female to occupy the role and is keen to make an early impression.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the UK’s plan to donate its surplus vaccines to the developing world was welcomed but needs to be accelerated.

She said: ‘I don’t think we should wait to get surplus when other people have been served.

‘I think that any donations that are coming must come now.

‘The reason is very simple. It’s in the interest of rich countries as well as poor countries to have equitable access.’

She cited a study by the International Chamber of Commerce that outlines the case for global vaccinations.

The study claimed the world could lose £6.4trillion ($9trillion) if richer countries have vaccinated half their populations and poor countries have not vaccinated theirs by the middle of the year. 

Boris Johnson (pictured at the virtual meeting of G7 leaders) told global leaders there is 'no point' in vaccinating national populations if efforts are not made to ensure the 'whole world' receives jabs

Boris Johnson appears to agree, telling G7 leaders there is ‘no point’ in vaccinating national populations if efforts are not made to ensure the ‘whole world’ receives jabs.

The world’s biggest vaccine maker, India’s Serum Institute, on Monday urged other countries to be ‘patient’ about it supplying anti-coronavirus shots, saying it has been instructed to prioritise its home market.

Steinmeier said that although countries were focused on protecting their own citizens from coronavirus, it made sense for the wealthier nations speeding ahead in the vaccine race to ensure that people in poorer nations were jabbed at the same time.

‘Governments are first and foremost – and understandably so – committed to their respective publics,’ he said.

However, ‘if we refuse to grant the necessary solidarity, we must not be surprised if other countries come in to fill this vacuum by delivering earlier what is required – and using that that for their own purposes.’

Tedros called for intellectual property rights on Covid-19 medical goods to be waived – a move which could facilitate greater knowledge-sharing and the rapid scale-up of production sites.

The idea, currently before the World Trade Organisation, is staunchly opposed by pharmaceutical giants.

Tedros also urged pharmaceutical companies that were not making their own Covid-19 vaccines to turn over their facilities to produce other companies’ doses, as Sanofi has done for the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

‘If we increase the pie, then better opportunities to share it equitably too.’

Steinmeier however said he did not think a waiver for patents or licensing ‘would be the right approach’.

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