GENEVA — Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has urged governments, vaccine developers and the world to “step up their game” to fight vaccine inequity after the richest countries snatched up most COVID-19 vaccine doses and those in poorer nations have gone lacking.
Her comments on Monday came as the World Health Organization announced 5.2 million new confirmed virus cases over the latest week, the largest weekly count yet, according to the U.N. health agency.
The Swedish teen who inspired the “Fridays for Future” climate change movement chipped in 100,000 euros ($120,000) from her charitable foundation to the WHO Foundation to help purchase COVID-19 vaccines for countries where they are needed — especially in poor countries.
“It is completely unethical that high-income countries are now vaccinating young and healthy people if that happens at the expense of people in risk groups and on the front lines in low- and middle-income countries,” said Thunberg, who was invited as a guest for a regular WHO briefing.
While Thunberg hailed the development of COVID-19 vaccines in “record time,” she cited estimates that 1 in 4 people in high-income countries have received them so far, while only 1 in 500 in middle- and lower-income countries have.
“The international community, governments and vaccine developers must step up their game and address the tragedy that is vaccine inequity,” she said. “Just with the climate crisis, those who are the most vulnerable need to be prioritized and global problems require global solutions.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said new COVID-19 cases rose for an eighth straight week around the globe and deaths have risen for a fifth straight week.
He said infections among people 25 to 59 are “increasing at an alarming rate, possibly as a result of highly contagious variants and increased social mixing among younger adults.”
More than 3 million COVID-19 patients have died in the pandemic and over 141 million have been infected, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, but experts say both numbers understate the true toll of the pandemic.
Thunberg said people need to “step up for one another.”
“We young people may be the ones who are least affected … by the virus in a direct way,” she said. “Of course, many young people fail to draw that connection.”
“Not all, but some,” she added.