The World Health Organization on Tuesday accused wealthy nations of prolonging the pandemic by hoarding vaccines and other supplies needed in poorer countries.
“This is not just unfair, it’s not just immoral, it’s prolonging the pandemic,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the group’s technical lead for the coronavirus, said during a Q&A. “And it is resulting in people dying.”
“If we had used the vaccine doses that were available differently, we be in a very different situation right now globally,” she added.
WHO has been badgering wealthy nations to give vaccine doses to poorer ones pretty much since the pandemic began, and has also said booster shots should be paused until poorer nations get a chance to vaccinate more of their people.
Vaccinations more important than ever
The concern became more pronounced when the delta variant, which is much more contagious than the original strain of the virus, began to spread widely in many countries.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, hospitalizations have risen sharply and deaths less sharply due to the highly contagious variant. More than 90% of those being hospitalized or dying from the virus are unvaccinated, however.
In Africa, only around five percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated, while in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, 65% or more of the adults are fully vaccinated.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month that he thought vaccine boosters should be delayed for at least two months in order to vaccinate more people in poorer countries.
The U.S. under the Biden administration has donated more than 110 million vaccine doses to dozens of countries from Afghanistan to Zambia, but WHO thinks more needs to be done.
While some of the U.S. vaccines–Moderna and Johnson&Johnson–appear to be faring well against delta infections, Pfizer may be having more of a struggle preventing infection. Many of the doses donated by the U.S. are ones that have not yet been approved by the FDA and may also not be as effective against delta, according to some studies.
With international travel largely banned, it was not clear how vaccinating those in other countries would prevent transmission in the U.S. It would cause more deaths in those countries, however, as well as massive economic disruptions and other problems.
Fortune said that with 75% of the world’s vaccines being distributed to only 10 wealthy countries, it could impact the global economy to the tune of $2.3 trillion. But look at it this way: Biden spends that amount in a weekend these days, so it must not be that big of a deal, right?