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World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Monday the world is "on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure" because of unequal COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Why it matters: Tedros noted during an executive session that 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in 49 higher-income countries, while one lowest-income nation had "just 25 doses."

  • This "me-first" approach will ultimately "prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering," he added.

Of note: The WHO itself faced criticism in an interim report on Monday for being slow to respond to the outbreak after it was first detected in late 2019 in China, which was also singled out for failings early on.

  • "The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose," said the preliminary report by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, an independent panel commissioned by the WHO.
  • "The WHO has been underpowered to do the job."

What they're saying: China's public health measures "could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities" in January, said the report's panel of experts, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

  • The experts noted it was unclear why the WHO did not meet until the third week of January 2020, nor why it was unable to agree to declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern until a week later.

What to watch: A World Health Organization team of researchers is in Wuhan, China, investigating the origins of the pandemic.

  • Tedros said his focus is on the roll-out of the global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX, which is due to begin next month. Over 180 countries have signed up to the WHO-led scheme.
  • He hopes that by World Health Day on April 7, COVID-19 vaccines "are being administered in every country, as a symbol of hope for overcoming both the pandemic and the inequalities that lie at the root of so many global health challenges."

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Louisiana officials find "probable" Omicron case in cruise ship COVID outbreak — CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: NYC to impose vaccine mandate on private employers — Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy.
  4. World: U.S. announces $400M for global COVID vaccine distribution — Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Justice Department closes Emmett Till murder probe

A faded photograph is attached to the headstone that marks the gravesite of Emmett Till in Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

The family of Emmett Till announced Monday that the Department of Justice has formally closed its second investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

Why it matters: The DOJ reopened the probe in 2018 after the white woman at the center of the case reportedly recanted her allegation that Till, a Black 14-year-old, sexually harassed her prior to his murder.

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