The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was confident the pandemic will end in 2022 “if we end inequity” and spread vaccine wealth, urging nations to better cooperate on battling the coronavirus.
In a New Year’s address, Tedros said the tools were available to end the pandemic as the world enters its third year of the pandemic. But he argued that “narrow nationalism” and “vaccine hoarding” was preventing the pandemic from coming to an end, and led to the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
“The longer inequity continues, the higher the risks of the virus evolving in ways we can’t prevent or predict,” he said. “If we end inequity, we end the pandemic. In turn, we save lives, we relieve the burden on health systems and give respite to the legions of health workers who have toiled tirelessly and sacrificed so much for two years.”
The omicron variant of the virus, which was first detected in South Africa last month, has spread across the world, causing global cases to skyrocket. Thus far, the total number of cases recorded globally since the start of the pandemic has reached more than 280 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In addition, there is more access to vaccinations in wealthier countries such as the United States, who were able to buy vast quantities of the shots when they were first rolled out. The vaccination rate is higher in the U.S. and Europe, with 67 percent of the population vaccinated, according to a dashboard for the United Nations and WHO.
Lower-income nations have reported a roughly 10 percent vaccination coverage.
Tedros has been vocal about wealthier nations pitching in to help vaccinate countries around the globe. This week, he warned wealthier nations against booster shots amid a “tsunami of cases” driven by the omicron variant.
The week before he slammed nations who were administering third and fourth boosters of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s frankly difficult to understand how a year since the first vaccines were administered, 3 in 4 health workers in Africa remain unvaccinated,” Tedros said during a COVID-19 briefing.
“While some countries are now rolling out blanket booster programs, only half of WHO’s member states have been able to reach the target of vaccinating 40 percent of their populations by the end of the year, because of distortions in global supply.”
In his speech on New Year’s Eve, Tedros said 2021 was “a tough year” but that he found “a lot to be grateful for.”
“While no country is out of the woods from the pandemic, we have many new tools to prevent and treat COVID-19,” he said. “As we enter the third year of this pandemic, I’m confident that this will be the year we end it. But only if we do it together.”
He further stated that to help prepare the world for future epidemics and pandemics, “we established the new WHO BioHub System for countries to share novel biological materials”.
All the countries must focus on vaccinating more and more of their populations, added the WHO chief.
“We need all countries to work together to reach the global target of vaccinating 70 per cent of people in all countries by the middle of 2022”.
The remarks were made after the WHO gave emergency use authorisation to ninth vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India (SII) under license from Novavax. The WHO chief said that the new vaccine is part of the COVAX portfolio, and hoped that it will play an important role in achieving global vaccination targets.