UN chief urges global plan to reverse unfair vaccine access

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is sharply criticizing the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, saying 10 countries have administered 75 percent of vaccinations and demanding a global effort to get all people in every nation vaccinated as soon as possible

UN Security Council COVID-19
UN Security Council COVID-19

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sharply criticized the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, saying 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccinations and demanding a global effort to get all people in every nation vaccinated as soon as possible.

The U.N. chief told a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council that 130 countries have not received a single dose of vaccine and declared that “at this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.”

Guterres called for an urgent Global Vaccination Plan to bring together those with the power to ensure fair vaccine distribution -- scientists, vaccine producers and those who can fund the effort.

The secretary-general called on the world’s major economic powers in the Group of 20 to establish an emergency task force to establish a plan and coordinate its implementation and financing. He said the task force should have the capacity “to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors.”

Guterres said Friday’s meeting of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations “can create the momentum to mobilize the necessary financial resources.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, whose country holds the Security Council presidency this month, urged the U.N.’s most powerful body to adopt a resolution calling for cease-fires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

Thirteen ministers were scheduled to address the meeting on improving access to COVID-19 including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Britain says more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because they live in countries engulfed in conflict and instability, including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

“Global vaccination coverage is essential to beating coronavirus,” Raab said ahead of the meeting. “That is why the U.K. is calling for a vaccination cease-fire to allow COVID-19 vaccines to reach people living in conflict zones and for a greater global team effort to deliver equitable access.”

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward said: “Humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies need the full backing of the council to be able to carry out the job we are asking them to do.”

Woodward said cease-fires have been used to carry out vaccinations, pointing to a two-day pause in fighting in Afghanistan in 2001 that enabled 35,000 health workers and volunteers to vaccinate 5.7 million children under the age of 5 against polio.

Britain has drafted a Security Council resolution that Woodward said the U.K. hopes will be adopted in the coming weeks.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Tuesday that Mexico will stress the importance of equal access for all countries to COVID-19 vaccines at the council meeting.

He was sharply critical that countries that produce the vaccine have high vaccination rates while Latin American countries have problems obtaining any vaccines.

The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million of them. But many countries have not yet started vaccination programs and even rich nations are facing shortages of vaccine doses as manufacturers struggle to ramp up production.

The World Health Organization’s COVAX program, an ambitious project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people, has already missed its own goal of beginning coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time that shots were rolled out in rich countries.

Numerous developing countries have rushed in recent weeks to sign their own private deals to buy vaccines, unwilling to wait for COVAX.

Woodward said Britain supports reserving 5% of COVAX doses as a “last resort” buffer to ensure that high-risk populations have access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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