Secretary-general Antonio Guterres said it was “very important” that the intellectual property rights of scientists seeking to develop a vaccine were protected.
At the same time he stressed it was essential that if a successful vaccine was produced, it was made available to “everybody, everywhere” around the world.
His warning came after Britain, the United States and Canada accused hackers linked to Russian intelligence of targeting vaccine researchers- including those in the UK – in an attempt to steal details of their work.
Coronavirus vaccine research must not be stolen by spies, head of UN says
The head of the United Nations has condemned any attempt by countries to steal details of coronavirus vaccine research from their rivals.
Moscow has strongly denied the allegations.
Mr Guterres told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Any espionage in relation to vaccines is to be condemned as we must condemn any policies that divide the world instead of conceiving the vaccine as a global public good, conceiving the vaccine as a people’s vaccine, that must be accessible to everybody, everywhere.
“Just to develop a vaccine for each country’s population and forget about the others is also something that is unacceptable.
“It is very important the intellectual property is protected, that nobody spies on anybody, but it is also important that a vaccine must be available to everybody, everywhere and affordable by everybody, everywhere.”
Mr Guterres lamented the failure of countries to come together to fight the virus, blaming the “dysfunctional” state of relations between the world’s biggest powers such as the US, Russia and China.
He said it was essential that the developed countries did more to support the poorer ones, otherwise they would pay a “terrible price”.
“We will not be safe in relation to the pandemic if everybody is not safe,” he said.
“So to support the global south and to support global institutions to fight the pandemic is absolutely essential to preserve the interests of the most developed countries of the world.
“If the developed countries try to solve their own problems and forget about the rest in the end they will pay a terrible price.”