Wealthy countries are being urged to reconsider vaccinating children and donate the doses to poorer nations as the WHO warned the second year of the pandemic would be deadlier than the first.
Countries like the USA are poised to begin inoculating the young but the head of WHO said some poor nations had not yet even protected their frontline health workers amid an uneven distribution of jabs around the world.
In the race to protect their citizens from the deadly coronavirus, wealthy countries have snapped up the most supply since vaccines were first approved in December.
The USA, China and India have inoculated the highest number of people while some countries in Africa have not yet started.
US president Joe Biden last week laid out America’s plans to begin vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds as soon as possible and a target for 70 per cent of adults to have received their first dose by the July 4 Independence Day holiday.
Canada has also approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds and in Switzerland some areas have begun vaccinating 16-year-olds.
Australia’s sluggish rollout is still working through phases 1a and 1b and is not scheduled to vaccinate children under 16 until the final phase 3.
Despite vaccine rollouts around the world, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned the second year of the pandemic was set to be more deadly than the first, with India a huge concern.
Dr Tedros urged rich countries to donate COVID-19 shots to the COVAX scheme which aims to vaccine people in the 92 poorer countries that have signed up.
“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to COVAX,” he told a virtual meeting in Geneva.
“In low and lower-middle income countries, Covid-19 vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunise healthcare workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently.”
In wealthy countries, this stance does not seem very popular.
German Family Minister Franziska Giffey on Friday said she was in favour of prioritising the vaccination of children and youths as soon as a vaccine is authorised for those age groups.
Meanwhile Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread through India’s vast countryside on Friday as the country’s official tally crossed 24 million and more than 4000 people died for the third straight day.
India is in the grip of the highly transmissible B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus, first detected there and now appearing across the globe.
But while India is the world’s largest vaccine producer, the huge demand has left it low on stocks and vaccinations have slowed down.
As of Friday, it had fully vaccinated 39.4 million people, about 2.9 per cent of the population.
Mr Modi said his government was “on a war footing” to try to contain the spread.
“The outbreak is reaching rural areas with great speed,” he said, addressing farmers in a virtual conference.
“I want to once again warn all … those who live in villages about corona.”
Medical journal The Lancet said restrictions on movement along with international support measures were urgently needed to stem “an unprecedented public health crisis”.
Mr Modi has been under pressure to impose a countrywide lockdown, though on Thursday the president of the Public Health Foundation of India questioned whether that would be effective in India.
More than 160.71 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 3,477,379 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.
China’s first cases in weeks
Mainland China has reported 12 new COVID-19 cases, including its first local transmissions in more than three weeks, authorities say.
Four of the cases were local infections in the eastern province of Anhui, all linked to the same case surnamed Li.
State media reported mass testing being carried out in two cities in the province, Luan and Hefei.
These were the first local transmissions since April 20 when China recorded two in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where a city on the border with Myanmar reported a new cluster in late March.
None of the confirmed Anhui cases had been vaccinated, Xinhua cited a local health official as saying.
The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 22 from 14 a day earlier.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China stood at 90,815 as of Thursday while the death toll remained unchanged at 4636.