UN official calls for speeding up coronavirus vaccinations

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations official spearheading global coronavirus vaccination efforts said on Monday the number of countries where 10% or less of the population has been vaccinated has fallen from 34 to 18 since then. January and called for accelerated progress to end the pandemic.

Under-Secretary-General Ted Chaiban told the UN Security Council that with more than 6 million lives lost to COVID-19 and just over a million new coronavirus infections reported to the World Health Organization in the past 24 hours, there is an urgent need to increase vaccinations in countries. where it was not possible to increase rates in 2021.

“The next six months are critical,” he said. “In 2022, we must take the swift action needed to accelerate vaccination. The window of opportunity is gradually closing. We risk losing momentum and failing on vaccine equity.

Chaiban said more than 11.1 billion doses of vaccines have been administered worldwide, and 124 of WHO’s 194 member countries have vaccinated more than 40% of their populations and 51 countries have reached more than 70%.

However, in low-income countries the rate is only 11%, he said. In the WHO’s Africa region, 83% of people are still unvaccinated, and in its Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Afghanistan, 51% have not received a first vaccine.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February appointed Chaiban, a senior official from the UN children’s agency UNICEF, to lead a UN team to ensure an effective global response to the pandemic and to help close the gap in vaccine availability and distribution. It will also provide financial and technical assistance to overcome vaccine bottlenecks.

Chaiban said a just-concluded campaign in Ethiopia has increased vaccination coverage from 4% in January to just over 20%, including in some conflict-affected areas. In the conflict-affected Central African Republic, he said, strong community engagement, including focus group discussions, TV and radio spots with leaders and influencers, and youth mobilization, led to the vaccination of almost 19% of the population.

Chaiban told the council he was speaking via video link from Congo where this week the UN team will meet with government officials and key partners “to better respond to urgent needs and bottlenecks to expand coverage. vaccine across this country of nearly 100 million people”.

Dr Esperanza Martinez, senior adviser to the director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said vaccinations and other health-related activities “are incredibly difficult to carry out” in conflict-affected areas.

“The good news is that as the supply of vaccine doses increases, the potential for getting shots in the arms also increases,” she said.

To achieve this, Martinez said, the Security Council should ensure that international humanitarian law requiring the protection of health workers and health facilities is respected, integrate coronavirus vaccinations into broader efforts to improve the health and strengthen health systems in conflict-affected countries. He said community involvement in immunization activities is key to gaining public trust.

“We’ve seen vaccines expire on airport tarmacs in Afghanistan, Nigeria, South Sudan and several other places,” Martinez said. “Some of these vaccines were wasted because they arrived with too short an expiry date, others because the recipient country’s health systems were not ready to distribute them.”

To address the significant vaccine equity gap, the UN’s Chaiban urged the Council to continue supporting two resolutions it passed calling for ceasefires and increased global cooperation to facilitate access to vaccines in major conflict areas.

He urged countries to turn $4.8 billion in pledges at a virtual summit on Friday to help low-income countries scale up vaccinations “into tangible support” now.

Chaiban also urged council members to advocate for and ensure unhindered humanitarian access to deliver vaccines and administer doses and to invest in primary health care “as a key part of future pandemic preparedness.”

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