WHO says vaccine hoarding 'keeps pandemic burning'

GENEVA (Reuters) - Rich countries squabbling over COVID-19 vaccine supplies must consider the situation in poorer parts of the world, the World Health Organization said on Friday, warning that hoarding of shots “keeps the pandemic burning”.

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Orgnaization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

WHO officials were speaking after the European Commission said it had agreed a plan to control exports of vaccines from the European Union, including to Britain, arguing it needed to do so to ensure its own supplies.

The EU, whose member states are far behind Israel, Britain and the United States in rolling out vaccines, is scrambling to get supplies just as the West’s biggest drugmakers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems.

“If we hoard vaccines and we are not sharing, there will be three major problems. One, I have said it, it will be a catastrophic moral failure and two it keeps the pandemic burning and three very slow global economy recovery,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told a virtual briefing.

“So it is our choice and I hope we will choose the right things,” he said, almost a year since he declared a public health emergency over the emergence of the coronavirus.

Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, told the briefing -also attended by a midwife from Uganda and a nurse from Pakistan - that people had to think about frontline colleagues like them.

He decried countries “fighting over the cake” when when frontline health workers in poor countries “don’t even have access to the crumbs”.

The WHO said the world needed to diversify the supply chain for making COVID-19 vaccines and that it was looking at other suppliers.

The organization said last week it had reached an agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech for 40 million doses of its vaccine and should be able to start delivering vaccines to poor and lower-middle income countries next month under the COVAX programme.

It hopes to give emergency-use listing for the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine within two weeks, Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, said.

Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director for access to medicines and health products, also told reporters the WHO had a team in China to inspect vaccine facilities.

She told the briefing the WHO had a meeting with the manufacturers of Russia’s vaccine last Friday, with more meetings due as they wait for more information.

Reporting by Emma Farge, Michael Shields and Matthias Blamont; Writing by Alison Williams; Editing by Jon Boyle and Pravin Char