Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is warning more variants like Omicron could arise if wealthy countries don't share vaccinations.
Clark, who is a co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, told the Herald's In The Loop podcast vaccines hadn't been shared equally and richer nations had hoarded them.
"Where you have a very very low proportion of a population vaccinated, and the virus is circulating in the community, you have the chance of more deadly, more transmissible variants spreading."
She said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has set a global vaccination target of 40 per cent by the end of the year, which she said would be a great improvement in places like Sub-Saharan Africa that had inoculated less than 6 per cent.
"Sadly, the global response had been woeful, and our panel had said there had been delays and slip-ups at every step."
If people had been prepared and responded well, Clark said there should have been no reason a localised disease outbreak became a pandemic.
"The pandemic will keep going as long as we present ourselves as willing hosts of the virus, we are sitting ducks if we're not vaccinated."
On current trends, she said 82 countries do not reach the 40 per cent level.
"Rich nations have hoarded the vaccines. Our panel said in May this year, based on our research that high-income countries - of which New Zealand is one - if we take us all together, we have at our disposal twice as many doses as we need."
She said if people had shared vaccines, knowledge and manufacturing abilities, we could have had the world vaccinated by now.
Asked what Kiwis could do to help in the global fight against Covid, Clark urged them to get vaccinated.
"Please get vaccinated. Because every unvaccinated person is an open house for the virus to enter.
"If we are part of the problem of letting the virus continue to spread, heaven knows, we don't want the Auckland variant, we don't want the Whakatāne variant," she said.
"We have to pull our weight here."
Overall, Clark noted one of the most concerning things now was that countries were relaxing restrictions even when vaccination rates weren't high enough.
"This has happened in Europe this year, again, so with too low a level of vaccination they took off controls. I get really scared when I see photos from friends in the Tube in London where no one's got their mask on."
WHO member nations have agreed to negotiate a pandemic convention or treaty, but Clark is concerned the process is progressing too slowly.
The current pace would put a proposal to the World Health Assembly in May 2024 – more than four years after the WHO director general described the spread of Covid-19 as a pandemic.
"I mean this is really disgraceful."