The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that the world was on the brink of a "catastrophic moral failure" on distributing COVID-19 vaccines, urging countries and manufacturers to share doses more fairly around the world.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the prospects for equitable distribution are at "serious risk" just as its vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX aims to start distributing inoculations next month.
He noted 44 bilateral deals were signed last year and at least 12 have already been signed this year.
"This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption," he said.
Such a "me-first approach" left the world's poorest and most vulnerable at risk, he said at the opening of the body's annual Executive Board meeting in virtual format.
"Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic."
The global scramble for shots has intensified as more infectious virus variants circulate.
Tedros cited as an example of inequality that more than 39 million doses of vaccine have been administered in 49 higher-income countries whereas just 25 doses had been given in one poor country.