In the race to end the coronavirus pandemic, the UN chief reminded a virtual medical conference on Thursday that “a vaccine, by itself, is not enough”.
“We need global solidarity to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message to the Global Vaccine Summit, convened to find and fund collective solutions for COVID-19-related vaccines and to strengthen routine immunization commitments and resources for other preventable diseases.
COVID-19, the greatest public health crisis of the generation, has skyrocketed vaccines to the top of the global agenda.
As “the most important public health intervention in history”, Mr. Guterres credited the “lifesaving miracle” of vaccinations, for saving tens of millions of lives each year, eradicating smallpox and preventing outbreaks of diseases like measles, rubella and tetanus.
He maintained that a COVID-19 vaccine must be seen as “a global public good – a people’s vaccine”.
The UN chief lauded the “incredible work” of GAVI, the vaccine alliance, and its partners in allowing people of all ages and income levels throughout the world to access vaccines.
“The United Nations is proud to be part of this effort towards universal health coverage”, he upheld, reiterating its commitment to being part of the next phase, “because there is still much work to do”.
Against the backdrop of 20 million children missing their full complement of vaccines and one-in-five having received no vaccines at all, Mr. Guterres pointed out that under the shadow of COVID-19, “their plight is even more desperate”.
He painted a picture of halted immunization campaigns and broadening gaps in global vaccine delivery.
Three commitments required
The Secretary-General appealed for three main commitments, beginning with finding safe ways to continue delivering vaccinations, “even as COVID-19 spreads”.
Secondly, he asked that vaccine-delivery networks be used to deliver a range of other primary health services.
And finally, when the COVID-19 vaccine does become available, that it reaches everyone.
“Disease know no borders”, concluded the UN chief, “that is why a fully funded GAVI will be critical to ensure we continue to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.
World leaders chime in
Chaired by the United Kingdom, leaders from around the world outlined their latest thinking during the summit, on the need for, and progress towards, an equitable vaccine
“Vaccines work, and 86 per cent of the world’s children have been reached by routine immunization”, said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “In the midst of a global pandemic it has never been more important to build capacity to respond to disease outbreaks and work with organizations to deliver vaccines”.
The King of Jordan, Abdullah bin Al Hussein, called guaranteed equal access “not only the moral and just approach, it is also in the interest of the entire international community… It is our responsibility as an international community to make sure the most vulnerable are not left behind”.
Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, maintained that it was “pivotal” not to allow the pandemic to affect the importance of fighting other infectious diseases or “to exert collective efforts to resume immunization campaigns against vaccine-preventable diseases”.
Ethiopia President, Sahle-Work Zewde, underscored the importance of inoculations by saying that her country had boosted routine immunization from 30 per cent in 2000, to 72 per cent today, spelling out that “since 2018, 1.1 million girls have been spared from the scourge of cervical cancer due to the introduction of the HPV vaccine”.
Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed Germany’s continued support, saying, “We want to increase the chance for more than 300 million young people to have a healthy life. We are talking about 300 million individual lives – not just a number.”