A member of staff at the university hospital injects the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 into a patient in Duesseldorf, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (Federico Gambarini/dpa via AP)

A member of staff at the university hospital injects the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 into a patient in Duesseldorf, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (Federico Gambarini/dpa via AP)

WHO chief lambasts vaccine profits, demands elderly go first

One poor country received a mere 25 vaccine doses

GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief on Monday lambasted drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequalities, saying it’s “not right” that younger, healthier adults in wealthy countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people or health care workers in poorer countries and charging that most vaccine makers have targeted locations where “profits are highest.”

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off WHO’s week-long executive board meeting — virtually from its headquarters in Geneva — by lamenting that one poor country received a mere 25 vaccine doses while over 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.

“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country — not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25. I need to be blunt: The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” Tedros said. He did not specify the country, but a WHO spokeswoman identified it as Guinea.

“It’s right that all governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first,” he said. “But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries. There will be enough vaccine for everyone.”

Tedros, an Ethiopian who goes by his first name, nonetheless hailed the scientific achievement behind rolling out coronavirus vaccines less than a year after the pandemic erupted in China, where a WHO-backed team has now been deployed to look into origins of the coronavirus.

“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figuratively,” Tedros said. “But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the world’s haves and have-nots.”

He noted the WHO-backed COVAX program, which aims to get vaccines out to all countries, rich or poor, based on need, has so far secured 2 billion vaccine doses from five producers and options on a billion doses more.

“We aim to start deliveries in February,” he said. “COVAX is ready to deliver what it was created for.”

That target date could be a tall order, because a key producer of vaccines for the developing world — the Serum Institute of India — has not confirmed a date and predicted that its rollout might not happen before March or April.

In his opening remarks, Tedros aired some of his toughest public words yet toward vaccine makers, criticizing “bilateral deals” between them and countries that WHO says can deplete the effectiveness of the COVAX facility — and went further to raise the issue of profits.

“The situation is compounded by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO,” he said.

That appeared to allude to a shortage of data the U.N. health agency says it has received from vaccine makers so that WHO can approve their shots for wider emergency use.

Dr. Clement Martin Auer, a board member from Austria, had sharp words and questions for GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, that also with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is leading the effort on COVAX.

While calling its principles of equal access to vaccines a “fantastic idea,” Auer faulted COVAX as being “slow” and unable to close “crucial numbers” of contracts. He defended the European Union, which counts among its 27 members many of the world’s richest countries, for getting vaccines for its 450 million citizens and being “the single largest donor” in supporting COVAX.

“We were, in the European Union, skeptical that GAVI-COVAX had the means and the capabilities to fulfil its tasks and negotiate the necessary contracts and to secure the needs of our citizens,” Auer said, adding that COVAX management had “rejected” proposals negotiated by GAVI and the EU.

He said GAVI-COVAX early last year had not included mRNA vaccines like those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna in the COVAX portfolio.

“This was a major mistake, taking into account that the mRNAs are the early ones on the market and the gold standards when it comes to COVID vaccines,” Auer said.

WHO has approved Pfzier-BioNTech for emergency use against coronavirus and could approve Moderna this week.

WHO officials or other board members did not immediately address Tedros’ concerns at the meeting.

In related vaccine news, Israel has struck a deal with Pfizer, promising to share vast troves of medical data with the international drug giant in exchange for the continued flow of its hard-to-get vaccine.

Proponents say the deal could allow Israel to become the first country to vaccinate most of its population, while providing valuable research that could help the rest of the world. But critics say the deal raises major ethical concerns, including possible privacy violations and a deepening of the global divide in access to coronavirus vaccines.

Due to the ultra-cold storage needed for the Pfizer vaccine, it is more expensive and harder to use than some rivals, including the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, but studies show it is very effective. Israeli media have reported that Israel paid at least 50% more than other countries for the Pfizer vaccine.

By The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. Health Canada is just “days away” from approving Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, adding a fourth option to Canada’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Health Canada just days away from decision on Johnson and Johnson vaccine

Johnson and Johnson was authorized in the United States last weekend

The wreckage of a fatal crash involving a semi-truck and the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus near Tisdale, Sask., is seen on Saturday, April, 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Court to hear arguments on delay in Broncos lawsuit for proposed class action

11 lawsuits have been filed by victims and their families

Parliament Hill is shown in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
In pre-budget request, cities ask Liberals for $7 billion for rapid-housing program

OTTAWA — Canada’s municipalities are asking the federal government to include $7… Continue reading

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Churches’ challenge of public health rules back in B.C. Supreme Court

Three Fraser Valley churches argue health orders interfere with charter right to freedom of religion

Red Deer Rebels forward Jayden Grubbe is one of three Rebels on the NHL Central Scouting players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels seek consistency ahead of matchup with Hitmen

The Red Deer Rebels had to deal with a pang of regret… Continue reading

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Phil Noble, Pool via AP)
Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen reacts to a goal by Winnipeg Jets' Paul Stastny, left, during first-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Thursday, March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis (0) shoots after grabbing a rebound against Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Boston. At right is Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel answers a question during a news conference addressing hockey issues at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The International Ice Hockey Federation has confirmed the postponement of the women's world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May 6-16. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP /Mark Humphrey
IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

Quebec Premier François Legault chairs a virtual news conference Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. The premiers from the left are: John Horgan, B.C.; Jason Kenney, Alberta; Scott Moe, Saskatchewan; Legault, Quebec; Brian Pallister, Manitoba; Doug Ford, Ontario; and Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Most Read