UN calls for urgent global vaccination plan

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that gaping inequities in vaccine access puts the whole planet at risk.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that gaping inequities in vaccine access puts the whole planet at risk. © John MacDougall, AFP
8 min

The UN on Wednesday led calls for a coordinated global effort to vaccinate against Covid-19, warning that gaping inequities in initial efforts put the whole planet at risk.

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Foreign ministers met virtually for a first-ever UN Security Council session on vaccinations called by current chair Britain, which said the world had a "moral duty" to act together against the pandemic that has killed more than 2.4 million people.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced alarm that just 10 nations have administered 75 percent of doses so far – and 130 countries have had none at all.

"The world urgently needs a global vaccination plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities," Guterres said.

He said the Group of 20 major economies was in the best position to set up a task force on financing and implementation of global vaccinations and offered the full support of the UN.

"If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South, it will mutate again and again. New variants could become more transmissible, more deadly and, potentially, threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics," Guterres said.

"This can prolong the pandemic significantly, enabling the virus to come back to plague the Global North."

Henrietta Fore, head of the UN children's agency UNICEF, said: "The only way out of this pandemic for any of us is to ensure vaccinations are available for all of us."

EU to buy 300 million doses of Moderna vaccine

While the UN voiced alarm over the lack of access to vaccines in the Global South, the EU has been facing intense criticism over the block’s handling of the vaccine procurement process.

Amid signs that more infectious coronavirus variants are spreading unchecked across Europe, governments and EU leaders scrambled Wednesday to speed up vaccine efforts that have been hampered by limited supplies and to fund ways to hunt down variants and counter them.

The EU announced Wednesday that it has agreed to buy a further 300 million doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine and was injecting almost a quarter of a billion euros (almost $300 million) into efforts to combat virus variants.

The news came only hours after Pfizer and BioNTech said they had signed a deal to deliver an additional 200 million vaccine doses to the bloc.

The EU Commission said its second contract with Moderna provides for an additional purchase of 150 million doses in 2021 and an option to purchase 150 million more doses in 2022.

“With a portfolio of up to 2.6 billion doses, we will be able to provide vaccines not just to our citizens, but to our neighbors and partners as well,” EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said.

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While the 27-nation bloc began vaccinating its 450 million citizens almost two months ago, it still lags far behind Britain, the US and others in the share of population reached.

Shortfall in Covax funding

Meanwhile leaders of many developing countries have warned of the dangers of unequal access to the vaccines.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard denounced the "injustice" of what he called a "deepening gap" as wealthy countries "monopolize the vaccines".

There is already a plan to help developing nations – Covax is an initiative funded by donors and governments that aims to procure two billion vaccine doses in 2021 with options for a further billion.

Covax will soon be able to start delivery of vaccines after the World Health Organization (WHO) approved the shot developed by AstraZeneca, on which the initiative is almost entirely reliant in its first wave.

But aid groups say that many people still risk being left out due to a shortfall in Covax funding to arrange the administration and delicate transportation of vaccines as well as conflicts that make inoculation efforts impossible.

Britain, one of the largest contributors to Covax with a commitment of £548 million ($760 million), called for temporary ceasefires to allow vaccinations to more than 160 million people it feared were at risk in conflict zones.

"We have a moral duty to act, and a strategic necessity to come together to defeat this virus," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

US to pay more than $200 million in UN obligations

In his first Security Council appearance, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed that President Joe Biden's administration would take a new leadership role after reversing Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the World Health Organization.

Blinken said the US would pay up its more than $200 million in obligations to the UN body by the end of the month and make a "significant" contribution to Covax.

"The United States will work as a partner to address global challenges," Blinken said.

Pressure on China

But Blinken vowed to press for improvements by the WHO, which Trump, under fire for his own handling of the pandemic, accused of being beholden to China and not stopping the deadly virus.

"All countries must make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak," Blinken said, in a veiled renewal of US criticism that China has not cooperated with a WHO probe into how the virus first emerged in 2019 in Wuhan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned in his remarks against "attempts to politicise the pandemic" and renewed Beijing's offer of 10 million doses of its homegrown vaccine to Covax.

"We should come together to reject vaccine nationalism," he said.

The Security Council's only direct involvement in the pandemic came in July when, after a tense back-and-forth between the US and China, it passed a resolution encouraging ceasefires to limit the spread of Covid-19.

One immediate question for the UN is whether its own peacekeepers should have priority in vaccination.

India, a leading exporter of vaccines, announced a donation of 200,000 doses for UN peacekeepers.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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