UN secretary general calls for ‘global vaccine taskforce’ led by G20 in what he says is a ‘moral test’ of world community
United Nations secretary general António Guterres sharply criticised the ‘wildly uneven and unfair’ distribution of coronavirus vaccines. Photograph: AP
The Guardian-Associated Press
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has sharply criticised the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of Covid vaccines, saying 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations and demanding a global effort to get all people in every country vaccinated as soon as possible.
The UN chief told a high-level meeting of the UN security council on Wednesday that 130 countries had not yet received a single dose of vaccine.
“At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community,” said.
Guterres called for an urgent global vaccination plan to bring together those with the power to ensure equitable vaccine distribution – scientists, vaccine producers and those who can fund the effort.
He called on the world’s major economic powers in the Group of 20 to establish an emergency taskforce to establish a plan and coordinate its implementation and financing. He said the taskforce should have the capacity “to mobilise the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors”.
Guterres said Friday’s meeting of the Group of Seven major industrialised nations – the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, France, Canada and Italy – “can create the momentum to mobilise the necessary financial resources”.
Thirteen ministers addressed the virtual council meeting organised by Britain on improving access to Covid vaccinations, including in conflict areas.
The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. As manufacturers struggle to ramp up production of vaccines, many countries complain of being left out and even rich nations are facing shortages and domestic complaints.
The World Health Organization’s Covax programme, an project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people, has already missed its own goal of beginning coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time that shots were rolled out in rich countries. WHO says Covax needs $5bn in 2021.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the council the Biden administration “will work with our partners across the globe to expand manufacturing and distribution capacity and to increase access, including to marginalised populations”.
President Joe Biden has rejoined the WHO and Blinken announced that by the end of February the US would pay over $200m in previously assessed and current obligations to the UN agency, which Washington will seek to reform.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, criticised the growing “immunity divide” and called on the world to “come together to reject ‘vaccine nationalism,’ promote fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, and, in particular, make them accessible and affordable for developing countries, including those in conflict”.
At the WHO’s request, he said, China will contribute 10m doses of vaccines to Covax “preliminarily”.
China has donated vaccines to 53 developing countries including Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan and Palestine, which is a UN observer state. It has also exported vaccines to 22 countries, he said, adding that Beijing has launched research and development cooperation on Covid with more than 10 countries.
India’s external affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, also called for a halt to “vaccine nationalism” and encouragement for internationalism. “Hoarding superfluous doses will defeat our efforts towards attaining collective health security,” he warned.
Two vaccines, including one developed in India, have been granted emergency authorisation, the minister said, and as many as 30 vaccine candidates are in various stages of development.
Jaishankar announced “a gift of 200,000 doses” of vaccine for about 90,000 UN peacekeepers serving in a dozen hotspots around the world.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, whose country is president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, called for speeding up COVAX and stopping the “undue hoarding” and “monopolisation of vaccines.”
He urged that priority be given to countries with limited resources, saying “it’s been pointed out that these countries won’t have generalised access until the middle of 2023 if current trends persist”.
“What we are seeing is a huge gap,” Ebrard said. “In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a huge division affecting so many in such a short space of time. That is why it’s important to reverse this.”
Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, whose country holds the security council presidency this month and presided at the virtual meeting, urged the UN’s most powerful body to adopt a resolution calling for local ceasefires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines.
Britain says more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because they live in countries engulfed in conflict and instability, including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, objected to the council focusing on equitable access to vaccines, saying this went beyond its mandate to preserve international peace and security.