The World Health Organization warned the COVID-19 pandemic will not end until the unequal distribution of life-saving vaccines between rich and poor countries ends.
In an assessment of the year gone by, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world is still in the grips of a pandemic that shows no sign of going away. He noted more than 3.3 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in 2021. That, he said, is more deaths than from HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
He said the odds of this turning around any time soon are not good. He said there is consistent evidence the new omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading significantly faster than the delta variant. He said it is likely that people who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 could be infected or reinfected.
"None of us wants to be here again in 12 months' time talking about missed opportunities, continued inequity or new variants," Tedros said. "If we are to end the pandemic in the coming year, we must end inequity by ensuring 70% of the population of every country is vaccinated by the middle of next year."
Statistics show at least half of the world’s population has received a COVID-19 shot and the other half has not. People in rich countries have received about 50 times as many vaccine doses as those in the poorer countries.
For example, WHO reports just over 10% of people in Africa have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 64% in North America and 62% in Europe.
Studies show booster shots are effective against the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. WHO, however, said boosters should be given to the elderly and people who are immunocompromised and not to those at low risk, such as children.
A senior adviser to the director general, Bruce Aylward, refuted accusations that WHO is against boosters.
"What WHO has said very clearly is that we want to make sure that every dose of vaccine used has the best possible impact to get us out of this pandemic, and what we are seeking is equity in the use of vaccines globally," Aylward said. "The biggest bang for your buck is vaccinating someone at risk who has not received a dose of the vaccine."
Aylward noted most people who are hospitalized are unvaccinated. He said the goal right now is to make sure everyone gets the first dose before people at low risk get their booster shots.