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WHO: Rich nations hog supplies of virus shots

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A vial of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine.

The World Health Organization urged rich countries to stop jumping the queue and cutting their own deals with manufacturers to hog the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that right from the outset, wealthier nations had snapped up most of the supply of multiple vaccine products — potentially bumping up the price for everyone else battling the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet,” Tedros told a virtual news conference from WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

“At the outset, rich countries have bought up the majority of the supply of multiple vaccines.”

Tedros said 42 countries had started rolling out their vaccination program — 36 high-income nations and six middle-income states.

“I urge countries that have contracted more vaccines than they will need, and are controlling the global supply, to also donate and release them to COVAX immediately, which is ready today to roll out quickly,” he said. “And I urge countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX.

“No country is exceptional and should cut the queue ... while some remain with no supply of the vaccine.”

COVAX, the WHO co-led globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort, has struck agreements for 2 billion vaccine doses.

It aims to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the population in each participating country by the end of the year, with funding covered for the 92 lower- and lower-middle-income economies involved.