The World Health Organization said on Sunday that a UN-funded program sending coronavirus vaccines to many poor countries has now delivered 1 billion doses, but that milestone "is only a reminder of the work left" after hoarding and storage in rich countries.
A shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Rwanda on Saturday included the billion dose delivered through the COVAX program, the UN health agency said.
The WHO has long criticized unequal distribution of vaccines and called on manufacturers and other countries to prioritize COVAX. It said that as of Thursday, 36 of its 194 member states had vaccinated less than 10% of their population and 88 had vaccinated less than 40%.
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The program has delivered to 144 countries so far, "but the work that has gone into this milestone is only a reminder of the work that remains," the WHO said in a statement.
"COVAX's ambition was compromised by hoarding / stocks in rich countries, catastrophic outbreaks that led to borders and supplies being locked up," it added. "And a lack of sharing of licenses, technology and know-how from pharmaceutical companies meant that production capacity was unused."
In late December, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on everyone to make a "New Year's resolution" to stand behind a campaign to vaccinate 70% of the country's populations before the beginning of July.
In a newspaper interview published on Sunday, Germany's new international development minister said she wants to use her country's presidency this year for the group of seven industrial nations to ensure COVAX gets the resources it needs in 2022.
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"Unfortunately, there are still too few countries participating in the financing of the global vaccination campaign," Svenja Schulze was quoted as saying to the newspaper group Funke. "Together with Sweden, Norway, Canada and the USA, it is us who give the most. The other industrialized countries have considerable land to catch up with."
Germany has said it donated 103 million doses to poorer countries last year and plans to donate another 75 million by 2022.
Schulze signaled that she wants to extend aid to developing countries to produce vaccines themselves, with partnerships between companies to produce vaccines under license, a favored goal.
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Asked whether it would make sense to waive patents on COVID-19 patents that Germany's previous government was opposed to, she replied: "I doubt that developing countries would be more likely to get vaccines if we waived the patents. " The issue is only a small part of the production process, she argued.