LONDON, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a threat to global public health, the World Health Organization (WHO) last month calls for the momentum for vaccination to be maintained to better cover high-priority groups.
The vaccine uptake in low- and middle-income countries is still insufficient, which became a concern about the ongoing risk, according to the WHO.
The world has been struggling to tackle the problem of unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between rich and lower-income countries. Yet, years after the outbreak of the pandemic, promises made by many rich countries have yet to be delivered.
"No one is safe until everyone is safe," said Seth Berkley, CEO of the global vaccine alliance Gavi.
According to figures from Our World in Data, as early as two years ago, developed countries had already acquired enough doses to vaccinate their population more than one shot for each. But even now, many Western developed countries have not yet fulfilled their promises to deliver vaccines to low-income countries.
There are currently nearly 400 million doses of vaccines announced by the United States but not yet donated, according to the data. For the United Kingdom and Switzerland, the number is 41 million and 6.2 million.
Commenting on the low vaccination rates in low-income countries, Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, told Xinhua in an earlier interview that "the delay in vaccines getting to them has really been intolerable."
Last month at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos, Switzerland, Hatchett urged countries and manufacturers to prioritize vaccine supply to the global program COVAX.
According to a report by qz.com last October, Canada destroyed nearly 14 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses in early 2022. Switzerland was also reported to destroy more than 14 million doses of vaccines, which was more than four times the doses it donated to low-income countries.
What also worsened the global accessibility of vaccines is that some low-income countries had to turn down the offering of vaccine doses that were due to expire soon, or had to destroy such doses.
In May 2021, Malawi destroyed nearly 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, which arrived in the country at the end of March but would expire on April 13.
In an article published in the Sunday Mirror newspaper in 2021, WHO Ambassador for Global Health Financing Gordon Brown said the West's stockpile of COVID-19 vaccine is growing by the day but many poorer parts of the world are missing out.
"We must act now," said the former British prime minister.
The obvious gap between immunity in rich and poorer countries has drawn the attention of many experts. Many have warned that the longer the unequal vaccine distribution exists, the wider COVID-19 spreads, and new variants are more likely to emerge.
Extremely unequal vaccine distribution has typified the availability of vaccines across countries, said a study published in August 2022 in the UK journal Communications Medicine. "In an unequal world with open economies, pandemics do not stop at national borders," it stressed.
Since about 85 percent of the global population resides in low- and middle-income countries, most of humanity remains exposed to continued outbreaks, the study said, adding that this situation increases the risk that further virus variants will emerge, possibly undermining the efficacy of existing vaccines.
Most people in the world's poorest countries might not have access to COVID-19 vaccines until at least mid-2023, it said.
"We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world's population, not just the wealthy parts," said Berkley.
As long as large portions of the world's population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged, he said. ■