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Vaccine nationalism controversy continues with UN outcry

The United Nations headquarters in New York. Image credit: Diego Grandi / 123rf. Used to illustrate UN outcry over vaccine nationalism.
The United Nations headquarters in New York. Secretary-General António Guterres and others have criticised global inequities in access to COVID-19 vaccines Image credit: Diego Grandi / 123rf

The controversy over so-called ‘vaccine nationalism’ continues. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called out in harsh terms unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, at the expense of poorer nations. 

In remarks delivered to a high-level Security Council meeting, Guterres lambasted that the “progress on vaccinations has been wildly uneven and unfair. Just ten countries have administered 75 percent of all COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose. Those affected by conflict and insecurity are at particular risk of being left behind.” He asserted that ensuring such equitable access represents “the biggest moral test before the global community.”

The main intervention against inequities in vaccine distribution is COVAX, a facility designed to provide doses to low- and middle-income countries so they are not left behind in the inoculation campaign against COVID-19. The initiative, jointly led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CPEI), and the World Health Organization (WHO) will likely see the Serum Institute of India (SII) play a crucial role in the wake of the WHO’s emergency list approval of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine manufactured by the Institute. 

The importance of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines cannot be understated in terms of progress against the pandemic. As incoming World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said recently, “no one is safe until everyone is safe. Vaccine nationalism at this time just will not pay, because the variants are coming. If other countries are not immunised, it will just be a blow back.”

Lack of equitable access can also fuel vaccine hesitancy, experts warn. “The fair and equitable distribution of vaccines is essential to building trust and for maintaining international peace and preventing violence”, said Jagan Chapagain, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in a briefing to the Council. 

“This is about more than fairness. This is about stopping the virus”.

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