One year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, a new analysis by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reveals just how inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines are, particularly for countries on the IRC’s 2021 Watchlist, which identifies the 20 countries at greatest risk of a major new—or significantly worsened—humanitarian crisis over the year ahead. These countries — from Yemen and Syria to Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo — face a triple threat of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change, and are home to 85% of people in need of humanitarian aid and international support. Wealthy countries must share their excess vaccine doses through the COVAX Facility which was established to help facilitate equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. At the same time, the international community must work to finance distribution channels and strengthen health systems in crisis-affected countries to ensure vaccines can reach those in need. In taking these actions, the US, UK and EU, and others can make good on the UN Security Council resolution to strengthen international cooperation to facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccines in conflict settings and humanitarian emergencies.
Top findings include:
Approved excess COVID-19 vaccine doses purchased by the US, UK, and EU could vaccinate entire 16+ populations in all 20 Watchlist countries, preventing the development of further virus variants and tens of thousands of deaths.
Less than 5% of the COVAX vaccine supply — the program aimed at ensuring low-income countries can access COVID-19 vaccines — is heading to Watchlist countries in the first half of 2021, despite being home to 85% of people in need.
With weak and overstretched health systems – often decimated by years of insecurity and war – these countries require not just increased access to the COVID-19 vaccine but also additional financial and operational support to distribute vaccine doses and prevent further risk to global health security.
David Miliband, President, and CEO at the IRC said, “As the pandemic continues to claim lives and destroy livelihoods worldwide, with variants now arising in several countries, the wealthiest countries have continued purchasing enough doses to cover their entire populations several times over — highlighting and exacerbating the extreme inequality faced by people living in conflict and crisis. These countries have already suffered devastating secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing unprecedented levels of food insecurity and even famine conditions, overwhelmed health facilities, and growing levels of violence against women. Despite these severe vulnerabilities, crisis-affected populations are last in line for the COVID-19 vaccine. Less than 5% of the COVAX vaccine supply is heading to IRC Watchlist countries in the first half of 2021. Many people in these countries risk not receiving a vaccine for years.
“Vaccinating people living in conflict is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do – and a true test of the multilateral system. We welcome announcements from the US, UK, and some EU member states to support the global COVID response by sharing surplus doses, but more needs to be done – especially as these same countries stockpile enough vaccines individually to cover entire populations of crisis-affected states. It is time for wealthy governments to realize that COVID will not be beaten anywhere until it is beaten everywhere – especially as new variants continue to arise, imperiling the efficacy of these same long-awaited vaccines. Now is the time for bold action: commit to share excess vaccine doses and to provide the financial support needed to help low-income countries actually distribute the doses once received — or risk pushing the end of this pandemic even further out of sight”.
News Source: International Rescue Committee