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Eco-Activist Greta Thunberg Has A New Issue: The Moral Threat of Vaccine Inequality

Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish environmental activist, is now lobbying world leaders to make sure that COVID vaccines are distributed equitably around the globe.

Speaking at a Monday press conference for the World Health Organization, Thunberg called it is "unethical" that young people at low-risk from COVID in rich nations are being vaccinated before health care workers in low-income countries.

"The only morally right thing to do is to prioritize the people who are the most vulnerable, no matter whether they live in a high-income country or a low-income country," she said.

"The international community, governments and vaccine developers must step up their game and address the tragedy that is vaccine inequity."

Thunberg tied the issue of COVID vaccine equity to her hallmark issue of climate change.

"As we are cutting down forests and destroying habitats, we are creating the ideal conditions for diseases to spill over from one animal to another and then to us," she said. "We can no longer separate the health crisis from the ecological crisis. We cannot separate the ecological crisis from the climate crisis. It's all interlinked in many ways."

Thunberg said there is no simple answer to either the pandemic or the climate crisis.

"What these crises come down to is that we only think for ourselves. We don't think about others," she said. "They come down to the way we treat others, the way we treat other human beings, the way we treat other animals and nature itself. So we need to change our mindsets."

She said the world faces a "moral test" over whether COVID vaccines will be shared equitably during this pandemic. And she added that getting this right isn't just about COVID.

"In the future we will most likely experience more frequent and more devastating pandemics," she said. "Unless we drastically changed our ways and the way we treat nature."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.