Maintenance of international peace and security - Security Council, 9014th Meeting
Security Council delegates call for closing vaccine equity gaps in conflict zones as experts stress need to protect hospitals, medical personnel from hostilities.
Representatives of Kenya, Ghana Outline Plans to Build Production Facilities, as Others Reiterate Appeal for Intellectual Property Right Waivers Rapid action in the next six months, especially in conflict zones, is essential for addressing vaccine equity gaps, the senior United Nations official in charge of global vaccination delivery efforts told the Security Council today. Ted Chaiban, Global Lead Coordinator for COVID‑19 Vaccine Country Readiness and Delivery — part of the COVAX facility — stressed the importance of strong political leadership and planning in implementing mass vaccination campaigns that can help achieve vaccine equity. In the 34 countries that the COVID‑19 vaccine delivery partnership is focused on, there are many competing health, humanitarian and economic priorities, he noted. Bundling COVID‑19 vaccination with other health and humanitarian interventions, and implementing the "humanitarian buffer" — which acts as a measure of last resort to ensure access to COVID‑19 vaccines — has enabled COVAX to reach vulnerable populations, he reported. However, "the window of opportunity is gradually closing", he cautioned. Those who are displaced or living in areas controlled by non-State armed groups are overlooked in public health responses, Esperanza Martinez, Senior Adviser to the Office of the Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), pointed out. Respect for international humanitarian law is essential for the protection of hospitals and medical personnel, she said, highlighting the pandemic as an opportune moment to strengthen health systems in conflict-affected countries. Also stressing that vaccines have expired on airport tarmacs in Afghanistan, Nigeria and South Sudan, she underscored the importance of enhancing delivery capabilities and building public trust. Along similar lines, Emmanuel Ojwang of CARE International, which provides humanitarian assistance in South Sudan, noted that misinformation, including a persistent myth connecting vaccines with infertility, has contributed to vaccine hesitancy in that country. In response, the Ministry of Health and its partners invested in community education, mobilizing religious leaders and radio stations to provide accurate information. Underscoring the fragility of South Sudan's health system, he portrayed the challenge of rolling out COVID‑19 vaccines to a population of 12 million people, many of whom live in regions that are cut off by seasonal flooding. In the ensuing discussion, several delegates lamented the stark gaps in vaccination rates across the globe and stressed the importance of addressing the ways in which unilateralism, conflict, misinformation and lack of capacity have impacted vaccine equity and global public health goals. The yawning vaccination gap between the global North and South, Kenya's delegate said, has revealed the failure of multilateralism. It also allowed the virus to mutate again and again, he added, noting that if the multilateral machinery had been activated swiftly, the colossal impact of the pandemic would have been avoided. Advocating for a move from discretionary bilateral aid to strategic investment in local vaccine production, he said Kenya recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the pharmaceutical company Moderna to establish a $500 million mRNA vaccine and related drug manufacturing facility in the country. While it is not possible to vaccinate the world from hunger and suffering, the representative of the United States said, it is indeed possible to vaccinate people against COVID-19. Drawing attention to the impact of conflict, she pointed to Yemen where just 1.3 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, and Ukraine, where vaccine distribution has come to a halt because of the invasion by Russian Federation. Stressing the importance of removing barriers faced by humanitarian organizations in conflict zones, she said the United States will work to strengthen the global health security architecture. The international community needs to take a common but differentiated approach and work to strengthen public health systems, Ghana's delegate underscored, as he highlighted the importance of increasing funding for existing global health organizations. He called for dedicating an additional 1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to global health funding, adding: "This is an investment in global public good, not aid." Also stressing the need to decentralize manufacturing capacities, he said Ghana, Rwanda and Senegal are all venturing into vaccine development and called on major stakeholders to address issues around vaccine indemnity and liability requirements. Several delegates took up this call and drew attention to the impact of intellectual property claims on vaccine equity. Mexico's delegate called for their temporary suspension during pandemics, also adding that the international community must avoid stigmatizing a vaccine for political motivations, even after it has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). Norway's delegate called on manufacturers to waive their indemnity and liability requirements, while China's delegate noted that his country was the first to support intellectual property right waivers for vaccines. India's representative meanwhile said his delegation has proposed, alongside South Africa, a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights waiver for COVID‑19 vaccines, diagnostics and medicines. He highlighted the more than 170 million doses of "made-in-India" vaccines that have reached 96 countries and United Nations entities, also citing the country's upgrading of two peacekeeping hospitals in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Juba in South Sudan, at the onset of the pandemic. Also speaking today were the representatives of the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, France, Brazil, Russian Federation, Albania, Gabon and Ireland. The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 5:04 p.m.