By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) appealed on Wednesday for the world to work together toward a coronavirus vaccine, warning against any unilateral action that could prevent access for poor countries.

“The reality is that there is this risk,” Francesco Rocca, who heads the world’s largest disaster relief network, told Reuters. “Everyone must have access to these lifesaving treatments.”

On Tuesday, the United States rejected language in a World Health Organization resolution that was designed to ensure poor countries can have access to medicine, arguing that it sends “the wrong message to innovators who will be essential to the solutions the whole world needs.”

The novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, has infected more than 4.9 million people globally and caused almost 324,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

“If someone would say this is the intellectual property of this company … and putting high prices on the vaccines, so making it impossible or very difficult to have access, this of course can have an impact on the most vulnerable,” Rocca said.

“We want to prevent some unilateral decision that can effect the opportunity to have treatments and vaccines for everyone,” said Rocca, who is also president of the Italian Red Cross.

Rocca spoke from Rome shortly after meeting virtually with U.N. chief Antonio Guterres. He said they discussed the importance of multilateralism during the pandemic. The IFRC has 14 million volunteers in 192 countries.

“In this moment, some countries are not giving enough importance to the role of mulilateralism and this is a concern,” Rocca said.

The United States has suspended funding for the World Health Organization, accusing the U.N. agency of promoting Chinese “disinformation” about the outbreak. The WHO denied the accusation and China said it was transparent.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney)