General Assembly holds debate to boost momentum for universal COVID-19 vaccination

An elderly woman receives a second dose of the COVID vaccine during a  door-to-door campaign in a village in Rajasthan, India.
© UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani
An elderly woman receives a second dose of the COVID vaccine during a door-to-door campaign in a village in Rajasthan, India.

General Assembly holds debate to boost momentum for universal COVID-19 vaccination

Health

The President of the UN General Assembly appealed on Friday for greater global solidarity to vaccinate the entire world against COVID-19.  

Addressing a high-level debate on universal vaccination, Abdulla Shahid highlighted the persistent inequity in access to these lifesaving medicines and the failure of the international community to protect everyone against the disease. 

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Immoral and impractical 

“Let me be clear: vaccine inequity is immoral, and it is impractical,” he said, speaking from the iconic UN General Assembly Hall in New York. 

As of Friday, there were more than 428.5 million cases of COVID-19 globally, and 5.9 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Mr. Shahid said that although more than 10 billion vaccines have been administered around the world so far – enough to inoculate every person on the planet – some 83 per cent of the population of the African Union (AU) has yet to receive a single dose. 

“It is not okay that 27 countries have vaccinated less than 10 per cent of their populations while others are rolling out boosters or lifting restrictions entirely,” he said. 

Strength in solidarity 

Mr. Shahid convened the day-long debate to galvanize momentum towards ensuring everyone can receive vaccines, bringing together world leaders, senior UN officials, civil society and non-profit representatives, private sector stakeholders, front-line first responders and even celebrities. 

“If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is the importance of collective action – that our strength lies in solidarity,” he said. 

In a video message to the meeting, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called vaccine inequity “a moral indictment of our times", as it costs lives, damages economies, and allows the virus to circulate and mutate. 

Prioritize COVAX initiative 

For the UN chief, galvanizing momentum means that countries step up vaccine dose-sharing, as well as donations, to the COVAX solidarity mechanism.  

“It means manufacturers prioritizing and fulfilling vaccine contracts with COVAX, ensuring full transparency on monthly production and creating the conditions for the local or regional production of tests, vaccines and treatments,” he added. 

At the same time, pharmaceutical companies must share licenses, know-how and technology to support vaccine production across regions.   

Funding from donors and international financial institutions also needs to be ramped up, as does the fight against the “plague” of vaccine misinformation. 

“We have seen hopeful progress when supply is secured and predictable … when doses are donated with ample shelf-life … and when there is a deep understanding of what a country needs to accelerate vaccinations,” said Mr. Guterres. 

Ensure fair and full access 

The President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Collen Vixen Kelapile, addressed the dichotomy of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On the one hand, the crisis has shattered lives and livelihoods, among other fallouts, and wiped out advances in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).   

However, he added that it has also shown the best humanity can achieve, with the development of vaccines in record time. 

“The extent to which we are able to ensure fair and equal access to the vaccines will determine the ability of the most vulnerable countries to recover from the pandemic,” he said.  

“It will determine whether the world can truly overcome the pandemic, and embark on a sustainable recovery and achieve the SDGs.”  

Against use of force in Ukraine 

Prior to the start of the debate, the General Assembly President spoke about the burgeoning crisis in Ukraine, following the start of Russia’s so-called “special military operation” this week. 

“This military operation undermines global security and stability, and is inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations,” he said. 

Recalling a statement that he issued on Thursday, Mr. Shahid underlined that “the use of force and coercion has no place in the 21st century.”