Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO Director General, speaks during a press conference.
FABRIC COFFRINI | AFP | Getty Images
The uneven distribution of Covid vaccines around the world could dampen economic recovery, the World Trade Organization chief warned on Thursday, saying she was “very concerned” about the matter.
Richer nations have hoarded the highest number of limited Covid vaccinations, while many low-income nations have struggled to get their hands on much-needed vaccines.
Data collected by the WTO, the World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund shows that the US has secured 248% of the vaccines it produces based on its population, while that rate is only 30% for Mali and 56% for Kenya.
According to data compiled by Our World in Data, only 7% of the African population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The European Union and the US have now fully vaccinated around 67% and 58% of their populations, respectively.
“The level of inequality is pretty high,” WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told CNBC on Thursday in an exclusive interview.
She pointed out that post-pandemic economic recovery depends on two determinants: the level of monetary and fiscal stimulus and access to vaccines.
“I am very concerned that if we continue with inequality it will have a dampening effect on recovery in these countries,” said the Nigerian-born official.
The question of vaccine access arose shortly after health authorities in South Africa reported a new variant of Covid: Omicron.
Health experts have long argued that the coronavirus will thrive as long as parts of the world lack vaccines.
“Painful decision” to postpone the meeting
As part of the new variant, some countries have reintroduced travel restrictions. This was the case in Switzerland, which even imposed a 10-day quarantine on travelers from certain countries.
“They shouldn’t have been closed so hastily,” Okonjo-Iweala said of border restrictions, highlighting that this measure could act as a deterrent for nations to share Covid-related information.
Because of the discovery of the new Covid variant, the trade association was again forced to postpone a key meeting planned for this week.
“It was a very painful decision,” said Okonjo-Iweala. The delay is seen as a blow to hopes to temporarily give up patents on Covid vaccines and achieve fairer access to vaccines.
The WTO was also under pressure to update its working methods. The institution has often been criticized for being unsuitable for its purpose as the international trade landscape evolves and the disputes between nations and trading blocs such as the US and China and the US and Europe have increased.
Okonjo-Iweala had previously said that reform of the WTO “will be very difficult because of the lack of trust among members,” according to Reuters.
“Although the meeting was postponed through no fault of the WTO, we are still working flat out,” she told CNBC, adding that it is “not entirely true that nothing moves.”