The head of the World Health Organization has said the world was on the brink of a "catastrophic moral failure" on distributing vaccines, urging countries and manufacturers to share Covid-19 doses more fairly around the world.

"Not only does this me-first approach leave the world's poorest and most vulnerable at risk, it is also self-defeating," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the opening of the body's annual Executive Board meeting.

"Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic," he said.


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Dr Tedros 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.

The global scramble for shots has intensified as more infectious virus variants circulate.

Dr 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.