UPDATE - Greta Thunberg urges global support for vaccine equity

UPDATE - Greta Thunberg urges global support for vaccine equity

As with climate crisis, world must help those most vulnerable first, says environmental activist


By Peter Kenny

GENEVA (AA) - Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg urged the global community Monday to address vaccine inequity which the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned is a massive impediment to halting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The international community must do more to address the tragedy that is vaccine inequity,” said Thunberg at a bi-weekly WHO press webinar on the coronavirus and its impact.

“We have the means at our disposal to correct the great imbalance that exists around the world today in the fight against COVID-19. Just as with the climate crisis, we must help those who are the most vulnerable first,” she said.

That is why the climate activist supports the WHO, the GAVI vaccine alliance and all involved in the global vaccine initiative COVAX, which Thunberg believes offers the best path forward to ensure true vaccine equity and a way out of the pandemic.

Fighting the pandemic has the same needs as those to fight the climate crisis, and help should go to those who are the most vulnerable first, asserted the activist.

She said the Greta Thunberg Foundation will donate €100,000 ($120,370) to support vaccine equity as she urged countries and manufacturers to boost and share COVID-19 vaccine supplies so that everyone everywhere can be vaccinated.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus thanked Thunberg for her advocacy supporting vaccine equity and the example she has set through her foundation and making a “life-saving” donation to COVAX, which aims to provide equitable accessibility to vaccines across the globe.

“Greta Thunberg has inspired millions of people worldwide to take action to address the climate crisis, and her strong support of vaccine equity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic yet again demonstrates her commitment to making our world a healthier, safer and fairer place for all people,” said Tedros.

“I urge the global community to follow Greta’s example and do what they can, in support of COVAX, to protect the world’s most vulnerable people from this pandemic.”

Tedros had said at an April 16 webinar that more than 832 million vaccine doses had been administered globally but over 82% had gone to high- or upper-middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.2%.

On average, in high-income countries, more than one in four people have received a vaccine. In low-income countries, it is almost one in 500.

“Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time. And we are failing,” Tedros had said.

- COVID hospitalizations rising at 'alarming' rate

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients aged 25 to 59 have reached alarming levels worldwide, Tedros warned at the event, as new cases increased for the eighth week in a row.

"Infections and hospitalizations among people aged 25 to 59 are increasing at an alarming rate, possibly as a result of highly transmissible variants and increased social mixing among younger adults," he said.

"Deaths rose for the fifth straight week, and more than 3 million deaths have now been reported to the WHO," Tedros added, noting that 5.2 million cases had also been reported -- the highest weekly figure so far.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, it had taken nine months to reach 1 million deaths, four months to reach 2 million and three months to reach 3 million, he underlined.

"Big numbers can make us numb. But each one of these deaths is a tragedy for families, communities and nations."

- CO2 emissions rebound

As a reminder that "human health depends on the health of the planet that sustains us," Tedros noted that this week marks Earth Day on April 22.

Tedros said air pollution kills more than double the number killed by the novel coronavirus -- 7 million people per year.

"Despite temporary improvements in air quality last year as a result of so-called lockdowns, by September, air pollution had returned to pre-pandemic levels," he said.

"The health argument for climate action is crystal clear. The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people," said Tedros.

He said the UN's COP26 climate conference in Glasgow this year would present a special report with recommendations on maximizing the health benefits of tackling climate change while avoiding the worst health impacts of the climate crisis.

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