There have been one million COVID-19 deaths so far this year – a “tragic milestone” that must lead to more people being vaccinated against the disease, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported on Thursday. 

“We cannot say we are learning to live with COVID-19 when one million people have died with COVID-19 this year alone, when we are two-and-a-half years into the pandemic and have all the tools necessary to prevent these deaths,” said Tedros, speaking during his regular briefing from Geneva.

He again urged all governments to step up action to vaccinate all health workers, older persons, and others at highest risk, as part of efforts towards inoculating 70 per cent of the global population. 

Tedros said he was pleased to see that some countries with the lowest vaccination rates are now gaining ground, especially in Africa. 

In January, WHO and partners launched the COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership, focused mainly on the 34 countries that were at or below 10 per cent coverage.  All but six are on the continent. 

Today, only 10 countries still have less than 10 per cent coverage, most of which are facing humanitarian emergencies. 

Although welcoming progress on coverage of high-priority groups, Tedros stressed that more must be done as one-third of the world’s population remains unvaccinated.  

This includes two-thirds of health workers, and three-quarters of older persons in low-income countries. 

“All countries at all income levels must do more to vaccinate those most at risk, to ensure access to life-saving therapeutics, to continue testing and sequencing, and to set tailored, proportionate policies to limit transmission and save lives. This is the best way to drive a truly sustainable recovery,” he said.