(CN) — With the coronavirus pandemic's global death toll nearing 5 million, the World Health Organization on Thursday urged rich nations to share more vaccines with the poorest parts of the world to tame the pandemic by the end of the year.
“We have the tools to bring the pandemic under control if we use them properly and share them fairly,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, at a news briefing at the agency's Geneva headquarters.
WHO experts said the worst of the pandemic could be over if 40% of the population in each nation is vaccinated by the end of the year. The agency has set that as a goal and wants to see 70% of the population in each country inoculated by the middle of next year.
Earlier this year, the agency said it hoped that at least 10% of the population in each country would be inoculated by the end of September. Tedros said 56 countries did not meet that target. Most of the those are in Africa, where fewer than 5% of people are fully vaccinated.
The United Nations health agency says it wants the most vulnerable and at risk populations to get vaccinated first around the world, such as older people and health workers.
“If we get to 40%, we'll basically have ended the acute phase of the pandemic – that's how urgent this is,” said Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO adviser.
Tedros said that of the 6.5 billion vaccine doses administered worldwide by the end of September 75% had gone into the arms of people in richer countries while less than 1% of people in poor countries have been inoculated.
With about 1.5 billion doses being manufactured each month, Tedros said the world has the capacity to meet his agency's targets.
“This is not a supply problem, it is an allocation problem,” he said.
During the briefing, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, faulted richer countries for prolonging the pandemic by not doing more to distribute vaccines outside their borders.
"Instead of global coordinated action to get vaccines where they are needed most, we have seen vaccine hoarding, vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy,” he said.
Guterres said hoarding vaccines has let the virus circulate longer in poorer parts of the world. He said that could potentially give birth to new variants capable of resisting the vaccines that are allowing richer parts of the world to lift restrictions and get economies back on track.
“Not to have equitable distribution of vaccines is not only a question of being immoral, it is also a question of being stupid,” he said.
Still, global vaccination rates are steadily going up and the pandemic is showing signs of coming under control. Globally, about 46% of the world's population has received at least one vaccine dose, according to data tracked by Our World in Data.
For the past six weeks, the number of coronavirus infections detected each day around the world has fallen from more than 650,000 cases to about 424,000 cases.
Deaths, too, are declining. On average, about 6,900 new deaths are reported each day, about 3,300 fewer than in late August.
Nonetheless, many of the hardest-hit nations continue to report grim numbers of new cases and deaths.
The United States remains the worst with extremely high death counts. On Thursday, more than 2,000 deaths in the U.S. were linked to the virus, by far the most in the world.
Russia, too, continues to struggle. It has been reporting record high death tolls in recent days with 929 fatalities – the most yet for a single day – reported Thursday.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
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