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Nations debate call for 'vaccination cease-fire'

The U.N. Security Council took up a proposed resolution calling for cease-fires in conflict zones that would allow deliveries of coronavirus vaccines.

U.N. helicopters in Juba, South Sudan
U.N. helicopters in Juba, South Sudan (AN/Chetan Sharma)

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — The U.N. Security Council took up a proposed resolution on Wednesday calling for cease-fires in conflict zones around the world that would allow humanitarian workers to deliver coronavirus vaccines to vulnerable people.

Diplomats will consider voting on the resolution in coming weeks. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told the council that cease-fires are needed to ensure all nations gain equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

"At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community. We must ensure that everybody, everywhere, can be vaccinated as soon as possible. Yet progress on vaccinations has been wildly uneven and unfair. Just ten countries have administered 75% of all COVID-19 vaccines," he said. "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."

Guterres also  called for a global vaccination plan to bring together scientists, drug makers and humanitarian donors and urged the Group of 20 major economies to create an emergency task force for vaccine planning and funding that can "mobilize" all the key participants.

Cease-fires around the world would help humanitarian workers accomplish their work in the face of increasingly long and complex conflicts in nations such as Congo and Sudan that are tearing apart nations' health care systems, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore told the council.

"Equitable access to vaccines for all people, including those living under conflict, is essential. Not only as a matter of justice. But as the only pathway to ending this pandemic for all. And to sowing the seeds of care, hope and even peace in countries that have seen far too little," she said. "We need a global cease-fire."

The resolution is being pushed by Britain, which holds the 15-nation council's revolving presidency this month. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who chaired the meeeting, said the council, created to maintain international peace and security, has a "moral duty" to ensure that people living in conflict zones can be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"We need to think ourselves as a team working against a common and very deadly enemy," Raab told the council, which is based in New York but held the debate by videoconference on U.N. Web TV. Raab said a resolution calling for a "vaccination cease-fire" will provide support for nations' vaccination campaigns and reduce the risk that new variants can take hold and wreak more havoc around the world.

Questions of fairness and access

The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million worldwide. More than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from getting COVID-19 vaccines due to instability and conflict in places like Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, Raab's office said, adding the only way to protect everyone from COVID-19 is to make vaccinations available to all.

And while pushing for greater protection of humanitarian and health workers in conflict zones, Raab underlined the importance of international cooperation in solving the logistics of vaccine storage and managing complex supply chains.

The council heard from about a dozen foreign ministers. The United States supports more transparency, information sharing and other common measures to fight the pandemic, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the council.

He said the United States will pay the World Health Organization more than US$200 million in unpaid dues. The former Trump administration began withdrawing from the U.N. health agency, a decision U.S. President Joe Biden quickly reversed last month.

The COVAX Facility, a multilateral effort to buy and deliver COVID-19 vaccines among the world's poorest nations, has lagged in deliveries while rich nations roll out vaccinations based on private deals with drug makers. COVAX is led by WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

COVAX has said its agreements with several drug makers mean that all of its 190 participating and eligible member nations will have access to doses that protect vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021. But "we're only safe if we're all safe," Gavi's CEO Seth Berkley emphasized to the council.

"The pandemic is more than a global health crisis," he said. "There is no way out of this pandemic alone."