Countries must donate vaccines to protect vulnerable, health workers – Mike Ryan

WHO official said it is a ‘disgrace’ many health workers have still not been vaccinated

Countries need to donate at least some of their Covid-19 vaccines so that the most vulnerable and frontline health workers across the world can be vaccinated, Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Dr Ryan said it is “an abomination” and “a disgrace” that there are many frontline healthcare workers going to work in Covid wards who have still not yet been vaccinated against the disease.

“Let me be plain and honest, half the world think this pandemic is over and half the world is about to go over another cliff edge,” Dr Ryan said on Thursday.

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
11,999,670 10,016,556

“We essentially are in a situation where, if you’re living in a high income country, there are 80 vaccines out there for every hundred people. If you live in a low income country, that number is 1.3 ... we’ve distributed over three billion doses of vaccine around the world collectively.


“The Covax [global pooled procurement] mechanism has only been able to secure 100 million of those and shipped them to 135 participating countries and economies.”

Dr Ryan, who is executive director of the WHO's emergency programme, was speaking at the online launch of the People's Vaccine Alliance Ireland.

The Alliance, which is a coalition of Irish organisations, health practitioners, trade unions and activists, are calling on the Government to “take a stand for equality and global health” and to ensure that “everyone, everywhere” has access to Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.

‘Deeply iniquitous’ systems

Dr Ryan said while the vaccine inequity is “horrific”, the world’s health systems have come under “huge pressure” due to years of poor investment and are “deeply iniquitous”.

“We have huge issues with health workforce, health technology, with fairness and distribution of technology around the world for years and years.

“We’ve seen it with HIV, with so many other areas; an increasingly privatised under resourced, under equipped, increasingly tertiary oriented system that does not focus on the needs of communities, on health prevention, on health promotion, on marginalised people and does not focus on addressing the real needs in our societies.

“You get what you pay for and we’ve got what we’ve paid for globally, an iniquitous health system that under delivers in times of a crisis, that is incapable of surging and being flexible and being responsive to the needs of people.”

Dr Ryan said the world has been brought to its knees by a virus, and “not because the virus is smart but because we’re stupid, we have not been able to use a groundbreaking tool in the smartest way we could have”.

Principle of solidarity

Dr Ryan said there is “surely a way” for countries to look after their own and help others, “because it helps us back”. He said countries must find a way forward to accelerate the distribution and production of vaccines and the transfer of intellectual property rights of vaccines.

“It is time for countries to make a choice. It is time for countries to step forward and say, we can do both of these things; we can protect our own and we can reach out and protect others,” Dr Ryan concluded.

“It is a basic principle of solidarity, it is a basic principle of human rights and I hope that this meeting will help to advance that discussion in Ireland and internationally.”

Jim Clarken, chief executive of Oxfam Ireland, said in many parts of the world "it will take years before populations are vaccinated".

“This is a global health inequality that is simply not acceptable,” he said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times