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World Bank says U.S. must free up excess COVID vaccines for Latin America

World15 minutes ago (Jun 01, 2021 01:36PM ET)

(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: World Bank President David Malpass responds to a question from a reporter during an opening press conference at the IMF and World Bank’s 2019 Annual Fall Meetings of finance ministers and bank governors, in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019.

By David Lawder and Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Bank president said on Tuesday is was vital that the United States frees up excess COVID-19 vaccine doses for Latin America as the World Health Organization expressed concern about high infection rates in the region.

Mike Ryan, the top WHO emergency expert, said the situation in the region was “starting to turn in the wrong direction”. Four of the top 10 countries for cases last week were there and mortality rates are higher at between 3-5%, he said.

“These next few weeks are vital that in particular the U.S. frees up excess (vaccines) to go to programs that exist,” World Bank President David Malpass told the same briefing.

“We’re ready to take them tomorrow in the three countries that I mentioned and by two weeks from now in more countries within Latin America,” he said, referring to Ecuador, El Salvador and Honduras, which are seeking 220 million vaccine doses.

Latin America’s death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 1 million.

Chile, Peru and Paraguay have reported declines in new infections, but Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil are once again seeing a rise in cases, while Bolivia is reporting a drastic increase in deaths, the Pan American Health Organization said last week.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva also told the virtual briefing on vaccine equity that vaccine supplies for the region should be prioritised.

“We have to think about where the urgency to act is most significant and unfortunately for Latin America quite a number of countries are hit with the brutal force of COVID-19,” she said.

U.S. President Joe Biden last month announced pledges of some 80 million vaccine doses, including a significant number that will go to poor countries via the WHO’s COVAX sharing programme.

However, Malpass implied that more donations were needed, referring to its policy of vaccinating adolescents who are generally considered of low risk of serious illness.

“One thing needs to be done for the fairness and safety of the whole world: We need to be vaccinating vulnerable people right now,” he said.

The WHO has repeatedly called for rich countries to donate shots abroad instead of inoculating children. WHO Senior Adviser Bruce Aylward praised dose pledges by wealthy countries but said the timing for their availability needed to be brought forward.

World Bank says U.S. must free up excess COVID vaccines for Latin America

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