Vaccinating children in wealthy countries before high-risk adults in poorer places is "morally wrong", according to a top scientist.
Professor Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group that led trials to develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has hit out at governments for offering the Covid-19 vaccine to children as young as 12 - while many other low-income countries have yet to roll out an effective programme to curb the spread of the virus.
"The overall aim of a global vaccination programme in a pandemic is to stop people dying," Pollard told the U.K.'s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus. "I have worked in Nepal and Bangladesh and colleagues there are facing the most appalling circumstances - they're not working in a situation where there's an NHS to support them.
"It feels completely wrong to be in a situation morally where we are allowing that to happen whilst in many countries vaccines are being rolled out to younger and younger populations at very, very low risk."
The expert argued that children have a "near to zero risk of severe disease or death", while adults over 50, those with certain underlying health conditions and health workers face a greater risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from coronavirus.
The Pfizer vaccine has completed trials for adolescents and been approved in Canada and the U.S., while other vaccines are also currently being tested on individuals under 18.
"The main issue at the moment is to try and make sure the doses go to those in greatest need," Professor Pollard added. "This is a global problem which impacts our economies and puts pressure on health systems."
It has been alleged that some of the richer countries are "hoarding doses" of the vaccine, rather than donating them to countries in dire need.
COVAX, the worldwide initiative working to ensure equal access to vaccinations, is currently said to be 140 million doses short following an interruption in the supply from India.
Pollard has called for the U.K. government to act with "absolute urgency" or "many millions could die between now and September".
"We can't wait until later this year to make decisions," he explained. "It has to be now that we look at redistribution and how we get doses to countries that have poor access at the moment - and that is through Covax."