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The biggest threat to ending the COVID pandemic, according to the WHO

Emily Cleary
·3-min read
A vial of SARS-CoV2 COVID-19 vaccine in a medical research and development laboratory. Science 3D illustration.
Equitable distribution of the coronavirus vaccine is the key to beating the pandemic, say the World Health Organization (Getty images)

The unequal distribution of COVID vaccines is the single biggest threat to ending the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

During his opening speech at Friday's media briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO director general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said that of 335 million doses of vaccine that have been administered worldwide, 76% of those are in just 10 countries.

"The inequitable distribution of vaccines remains the biggest threat to ending the pandemic and driving a global recovery," he said.

Out of the 10 countries that have carried out the most vaccines per 100 people, eight are classified as 'high income' by the World Bank. Serbia and the Maldives are the only two nations not on that list.

Ghebreyesus also warned that by stockpiling materials needed to produce vaccines, countries could be putting lives at risk across the world.

This chart shows the countries with the most COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100 people

"Manufacturing any vaccine requires a lot of supplies, including glass vials and plastic filters, and the raw materials needed to make them," he said.

"The sudden increase in demand for vaccine production has led to a shortage of these and other supplies, which is limiting the production of vaccines for COVID-19 and could put the supply of routine childhood vaccines at risk.

"Some countries have imposed legal restrictions on the export of critical supplies. This is putting lives at risk around the world."

Ghebreyesus called on all countries not to stockpile supplies that are needed urgently to ramp up production of vaccines.

He said: "In a global pandemic, no country can go it alone. We are all inter-dependent."

Watch: 23.3 million in UK receive first jab

Read more: All UK adults could be offered vaccine by May

And the director general urged nations not to see vaccines as the ultimate solution to the COVID crisis.

"No country can simply vaccinate its way out of this pandemic," he added.

"We cannot end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere.

"The longer the virus circulates, the higher the chances that variants will emerge that make vaccines less effective."

By Friday more than 23 million people in the UK had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine - part of the biggest inoculation programme the country has ever launched.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Ghebreyesus has urged the world to pull together to fight the coronavirus pandemic (Fabrice Coffrini / POOL / AFP)

Read more: What you can and can't do under current lockdown rules

The government aims to offer a first vaccine dose to about 32 million people in nine priority groups by 15 April and the programme in England is now inviting those aged 56 and above to book appointments after the first four groups - those aged 70 and over, care home residents, healthcare workers and people required to shield - were offered a jab by mid-February.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs this week that although supply had been "finite" until now, the country would see a "big uplift" in available doses in the second half of March - amounting to tens of millions of jabs.

This would mean a "rapid increase" in the number of vaccines administered, he said.

Watch: Bristol University developing nasal spray vaccine