The head of the World Health Organization warned the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure as poor countries fall behind richer ones in accessing vaccines to protect their populations against Covid-19.

The world faces a "catastrophic moral failure" because of unequal Covid vaccine policies, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

The price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

He emphasized: “It’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”

The WHO established its Covax facility last year with Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide.

The program aims to distribute 2bn Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021 for free, or at a reduced cost. But it has struggled to mobilize the necessary support from wealthy nations to subsidize the initiative.

Tedros said the actions of pharmaceutical companies and rich governments had undermined the effort. “Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, going round Covax, driving up prices, and attempting to jump to the front of the queue,” he said.

“This is wrong.” Rather than submitting their vaccines for approval by the WHO, vaccine manufactures had prioritized securing regulatory approval from authorities in wealthy countries, Tedros said.

He urged all developers to share full clinical trial data with Covax.