GENEVA (Reuters) -There is a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide and most countries do not have anywhere near enough shots to cover health workers and others at high-risk, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.
More than 700 million jabs have been administered worldwide against the disease, but 87% have gone to high income or upper middle-income countries, with low income countries receiving just 0.2%, he said.
“On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a COVID-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500,” Tedros told a briefing.
The COVAX facility has delivered nearly 38.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 102 countries across six continents, six weeks after it began to roll out supplies, the GAVI vaccine alliance and WHO said on Thursday. It aims to deliver more than 2 billion doses this year but has faced delays.
“We hope to be able to catch up during April and May. The problem is not getting vaccines out of COVAX, the problem is getting them in,” Tedros said, decrying the scarcity of supply.
The AstraZeneca shot – the mainstay of the COVAX program so far – has been hit by safety concerns after reports of blood clots in some recipients.
Australia said on Friday it had ordered more alternatives for the AstraZeneca vaccine, setting back its vaccination rollout, and Hong Kong delayed deliveries of the shot amid concern about a possible very small risk of rare blood clots.
GAVI CEO Seth Berkley, asked whether COVAX was negotiating for more doses of the vaccine being shunned by some countries, said that the Anglo-Swedish company’s supply chain had “picked up”.
He hoped that the supply of AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India – whose doses are now being kept domestically for use against an accelerating epidemic – would improve over time.
“As countries decide they are going to prioritize one vaccine or another that may free up doses, and in doing we will try to make sure those doses are made available without delay, if countries are willing to make that happen,” Berkely said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and John Revill Writing by Andrew HeavensEditing by Andrew Cawthorne and Peter Graff)