During an address to the annual World Health Assembly today, Ghebreyesus called for all countries to have at least 10% of their populations vaccinated by September and at least 30% by the end of 2021.
In low- and middle-income countries, about 250 million more people would need to get vaccinated if the world were to reach the September threshold, with Ghebreyesus saying all healthcare workers and the most at-risk groups should have priority.
“This is crucial to stop severe disease and death, keep our health workers safe and reopen our societies and economies,” Ghebreyesus said. “We must be very clear: the pandemic is not over, and it will not be over until and unless transmission is controlled in every last country.”
According to the director-general, more than three-quarters of all vaccines have been administered in 10 wealthy countries, including more than 285 million in the U.S., which makes up about 17% of the total jabs administered around the world, according to Our World in Data.
COVAX, a WHO program setting out to deliver vaccines to low- and middle-income economies, will figure to be a major factor in getting the remainder of the world beyond the wealthy countries vaccinated, Ghebreyesus indicated. In February, the Biden administration pledged $4 billion to COVAX to aid in that process, and last week Biden announced that the U.S. would ship 20 million doses abroad in June.
Ghebreyesus also stressed that countries like the U.S. that produce and purchase most of the vaccines in the world are in control of the situation, but with a lack of supply in the remainder of the world, concessions need to be made.
In particular, with the FDA approving Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children between 12 and 15 years old, WHO believes there is an argument that frontline workers and high-risk individuals across the world should still be at the front of the queue. Children have proven to endure lower rates of serious illness and death from the virus.
“Every government has a duty to protect its own people, but right now, there is not enough supply,” Ghebreyesus said. “Countries that vaccinate children and other low-risk groups now do so at the expense of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries. That’s the reality.”