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Access to COVID-19 vaccines ‘shockingly unequal’: UN human rights chief

8% of adults in low-income countries had 1 jab by Dec. 1 compared to 65% in high-income ones, says Michelle Bachelet

Peter Kenny   | 08.12.2021
Access to COVID-19 vaccines ‘shockingly unequal’: UN human rights chief


Access to COVID-19 vaccines around the globe has been “shockingly unequal,” the UN human rights chief said on Wednesday.

By Dec. 1, barely 8% of adults had received one vaccine dose in low-income countries, compared to 65% in high-income countries, according to Michelle Bachelet.

“The pandemic has killed at least 5 million people and thrown every state and community into turmoil,” she said at a seminar on access to medicines and vaccines organized by the UN Human Rights Council.

“The people most affected are those who suffer systemic discrimination and pervasive inequalities – both within nations and among them.”

Citing UN chief Antonio Guterres’ observations, she said worldwide access to COVID-19 vaccines has been “profoundly unjust and immoral” and counterproductive.

“New spikes of infections, and the recent detection of the omicron variant, are a concrete demonstration of the dangers of vaccine inequity,” said Bachelet.

“New variants such as omicron are far more likely to emerge among largely unvaccinated populations – and they pose a threat to everyone.”

She stressed that the lack of universal and equitable access and distribution of vaccines is prolonging the pandemic, reiterating that “none of us is safe until all of us are safe.”

“This pandemic is a major global crisis, and it requires a united, global response,” said Bachelet.

She said vaccines had made it possible for the World Health Organization and other partners to draw up an effective and affordable initiative to protect the world, referring to the COVAX facility.

“We have been profoundly fortunate that medical research has so swiftly developed vaccines and medications that effectively prevent the most severe forms of COVID-19,” she said.

“But currently, it seems very unlikely that the WHO COVID-19 vaccination target of protecting 40% of the world’s population by the end of 2021 will be met. The target of 70% by mid-2022 is also threatened.”

Apart from the grave health issues, the “human rights impact of our global failure to vaccinate widely enough is profound,” according to the UN official.

“It is driving sharply divergent economic recoveries from the first waves of the pandemic. This heightens the risks that developing countries will not fall further behind – but be pushed further behind,” she said.

These setbacks threaten all of humanity, harming people, and economies, and could “lead to growing tensions and conflict.” ​​​​​​​

“Neglect of global vaccination is a threat to us all,” said Bachelet, reaffirming the need for COVID-19 vaccines to be viewed as “a global public good.”

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