The head of the World Health Organization issued a strongly worded plea to wealthy nations on Friday: Giving COVID-19 vaccines to children is a “moral catastrophe” as front-line health care workers and vulnerable populations in many countries lack access to the life-saving shots.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged richer nations to donate their vaccines to countries facing severe vaccine shortages before disseminating shots to kids, as they are considered a relatively low-risk group.
“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,” the director-general said during a news conference, referring to a WHO-backed initiative promoting equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Ghebreyesus said that only 0.3% of vaccines have gone to low-income countries as a “handful of rich countries which have bought up the majority of the vaccine supply” have already begun vaccinating lower-risk groups.
His remarks come just days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine be given to children as young as 12.
Kids can be infected with the coronavirus, but they are much less likely than adults to develop severe symptoms. Less than 2% of all COVID-19 cases involving children in the U.S. have resulted in hospitalization, according to data collated by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The WHO chief has repeatedly pointed out the staggering gap in global vaccine distribution. Last month, he noted that while 1 in 4 people in high-income nations had already received a vaccine, only 1 in more than 500 people had gotten a shot in low-income countries.
“We’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first,” he said.