World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday denounced "morally indefensible" vaccine nationalism as the world passes 4 million COVID-19 deaths.
"We have just passed the tragic milestone of 4 million recorded COVID-19 deaths, which likely underestimates the overall toll," he said at a press conference.
But while the death toll climbs, countries are not sharing the pain equally. Wealthier countries, including the United States, have much greater access to vaccines than many lower-income countries.
Tedros said this disparity is not only morally wrong but also hinders the fight against the virus by potentially allowing new, more dangerous variants to form as the virus circulates.
"Vaccine nationalism, where a handful of nations have taken the lion’s share, is morally indefensible and an ineffective public health strategy against a respiratory virus that is mutating quickly and becoming increasingly effective at moving from human-to-human," Tedros said. "At this stage in the pandemic, the fact that millions of health and care workers have still not been vaccinated is abhorrent."
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But experts say that ramping up production to increase the total global supply of vaccines is also key.
Tedros pointed to a meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers later this week.
"This is another crucial opportunity for leaders to take urgent steps to end the acute stage of this pandemic, providing the necessary funding to scale up the equitable manufacturing and distribution of health tools," he said.
While daily deaths from COVID-19 have fallen dramatically in the United States, there are still about 8,000 people dying from the virus per day worldwide, according to Our World in Data.